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Paul M. D'Amore
Paul M. D'Amore

Founding Member, Trial Lawyer

Deadly Illnesses Misdiagnosed as “Just the Flu”

When Does Improper Diagnosis or Discharge Constitute Medical Malpractice?

It’s one of the most common medical diagnoses: influenza. We all know the signs: fever, coughing, sore throat, achy muscles, and fatigue. It’s the feel-like-a-truck-hit-me constellation of symptoms that doctors describe in the most general of terms: “flu-like.”

But what happens when your symptoms are flu-like but not the flu? What if those same symptoms are caused by something much worse? And what if doctors don’t catch it in time?

Unfortunately, that very scenario happens far more often than it should. Many patients leave doctor’s offices, urgent cares, and emergency rooms with a flu diagnosis only to learn that they didn’t have the flu at all — or they had the flu plus something more serious at the same time.

Doctors have a duty to examine their patients carefully and comprehensively, screening them for differential diagnoses (that is, conditions that mimic the flu).

What are those conditions? And why do doctors continue to overlook them if improper flu diagnoses are so common? What rights do patients have after suffering needlessly because of a misdiagnosis?

We answer those questions in the sections to follow.

Common Serious Illnesses Misdiagnosed as the Flu

There are dozens upon dozens of medical conditions that list “flu-like symptoms” among their primary effects.

When a patient presents with these symptoms, doctors are expected to know that influenza is just one of many possibilities.

They should also know that sending patients home with a mistaken case of the flu can be dangerous, given that some of the illnesses associated with flu-like symptoms can progress rapidly and may cause serious health complications or even death.

The most common medical conditions mistaken for the flu include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Whooping cough (pertussis)
  • Meningitis (viral or bacterial)
  • Mono
  • Strep throat
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella
  • Bronchitis
  • Sepsis
  • Bacterial infections / bacterial overgrowth (e.g. C. difficile infection)
  • Lyme disease
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Less common but still serious illnesses known to cause flu-like symptoms include:

  • Septicemia
  • Fungal infections
  • Cat scratch fever
  • Tuberculosis
  • Toxic exposure
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Ebola
  • Malaria
  • SARS, swine flu, and other diseases associated with epidemics or foreign travel
  • HIV (especially soon after infection, a syndrome known as ARS, or Acute Retroviral Syndrome, which looks very much like a severe case of the flu)
  • Secondary or tertiary syphilis  

How Can a Wrong Flu Diagnosis Happen?

Doctors and hospitals are busier than ever these days. Too often, they rush their patients through an examination. Because many people who show up with flu-like symptoms are indeed suffering from influenza, it’s easy for doctors to assume that you are too — especially if it’s flu season, you don’t have other symptoms, and you seem to be otherwise young and healthy.

But flu-like symptoms are often the only sign of a more serious condition such as meningitis (which can become fatal within hours) or HIV (the early treatment of which can have a significant impact on long-term health and response to medication).

Earlier this year, a 12-year-old girl in California died after her sepsis was misdiagnosed as “just the flu.” She was sent home with ibuprofen and instructions for bed rest but passed away a few days later.

If a doctor fails to take his or her patient’s complaints seriously, complete a comprehensive patient history, or order the necessary blood-work and diagnostic exams, he or she may be liable for failure to diagnose or improper discharge, either of which can constitute medical malpractice in Maryland. Hospitals may also be liable for improper discharge or a mistaken case of the flu.

Legal Assistance for Patients Misdiagnosed with the Flu

An improper discharge with the flu can keep you from getting the critical care you need when it matters most.

Some conditions, such as bacterial meningitis, sepsis, septicemia, allergic reactions, or poisoning could cause the patient to go into shock or die after leaving the doctor’s office.

Meanwhile, even some “routine” conditions, such as pneumonia, can be fatal to vulnerable or high-risk patients. And conditions like HIV or syphilis may enter a period of asymptomatic dormancy, during which the patient might mistakenly conclude that their flu went away on its own and thereby miss out on the early treatment they need.

If you or your loved one has been misdiagnosed or improperly discharged with the flu in Maryland, you may be entitled to substantial financial compensation.

To find out whether you have a case for medical malpractice after being sent home with the flu, please contact us at D’Amore Personal Injury Law right away. Our experienced Maryland medical malpractice lawyers are ready to fight for the compensation you deserve.

Call 410-324-2000 or contact us online to get started with a free consultation today.

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