Stevens-Johnson Syndrome Lawsuit
Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) is a rare and life-threatening allergic skin reaction that causes the top layer of skin to peel off. It is usually brought on by adverse drug reactions, although many cases arise from viral infections or no known cause. It can lead to infections, organ failure, blindness, or death.
SJS causes a rash on less than 10 percent of the body. When the rash covers more than 30 percent of the body, the disease is called Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN). The mortality rate of TEN ranges up to 60 percent.
Together SJS and TEN form a spectrum of diseases that affect 1 to 2 million people per year. It’s thought that SJS/TEN are greatly underdiagnosed, and a bad diagnosis can be deadly. Overall, adverse drug reactions cause about 150,000 deaths per year in the US.
What Causes SJS?
SJS occurs when the immune system overreacts to something it thinks is toxic. Medications cause 75 percent of cases of SJS and TEN. Viral infections (herpes, pneumonia, HIV, hepatitis), vaccines and diseases affecting organs or the whole body can also cause SJS.
The FDA has issued warnings about SJS from acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. SJS is twice as common in men as in women. It is also more common in children and the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems like those with HIV/AIDS and lupus.
The most common medications that cause SJS are antibiotics, anti-epileptics, painkillers (ibuprofen, acetaminophen), and drugs that treat seizures, gout, or cancer. Medications implicated in the causing of SJS include:
- Avelox (Moxifloxacin)
- Cipro (Ciprofloxacin)
- Zithromax, ZPax (Azithromycin)
- Tylenol (Acetaminophen)
- Antibiotics like Penicillin, Amoxicillin and Ampicillin
- Sulfa drugs like Bactrim
- Drugs used to treat acne like Tetracycline and Accutane
- NSAIDs like Advil and Motrin (Ibuprofen)
- Drugs used to treat seizures like Tegretol, Dilantin and Depakote
- Sedatives like Phenobarbital
- Drugs used to treat gout-like Allopurinal
- Cox-2 inhibitors like Bextra and Celebrex
- Revlimid (Lenalidomide)
- Herbal supplements with Ginseng
- Drugs used to treat viral and fungal disease like Tamiflu and Lamictal
Genetics may also play a part in SJS and TEN susceptibility. A 2013 study published in Archives of Dermatology found that 10 percent of those with Han Chinese ancestry have a gene associated with increased risk of SJS/TEN when treated with the epilepsy drug carbamazepine.
Complications of SJS
SJS can occur after a single dose of a medication. The first symptom is usually a flu-like illness with fever, nausea, and fatigue. A painful rash can start anywhere on the body and spread quickly. SJS can cause blisters and inflammation of the mucous membranes on the eyes, mouth, nose, throat, genitals, and lungs.
After a few days, the top layer of skin dies and peels off. Lesions may continue to erupt for two to three weeks.
Other complications include:
- Vision loss
- Loss of lung capacity
- Dehydration and malnutrition
- Skin disfigurement
- Genital scarring
- Urinary problems
- Organ failure
- Septic shock
Proper treatment of SJS depends on an accurate diagnosis. If the condition has been caused by an adverse drug reaction, it’s important to identify and stop use of the drug immediately. If the cause is a viral infection, treatment of this infection should be pursued in addition to SJS treatment.
For more mild cases of SJS, corticosteroids are often used to reduce rash and swelling and prevent the progression of worsening symptoms. More serious cases must be treated in a hospital. Antibiotics may be used to control infections, along with intravenous injections of immunoglobulins, fluids, and nutrition. A ventilator or oxygen mask may be used if the patient has trouble breathing.
Treatment of more severe cases depends on the body systems involved. Those with blisters on the eyes and eyelids are often referred to ophthalmologists to prevent permanent eye damage. Those with severe burn-like symptoms are treated at burn centers, where a fluid replacement, sterile environments for infection prevention, and skin graft consultation can be provided.
Product Liability May Also Be at Fault
Marketing, manufacturing, or product design may also be held legally responsible for SJS. In some jurisdictions, it is possible to hold a drug manufacturer liable for a failure to warn users of SJS/TEN risk.
A New Hampshire woman received a $21 million settlement after going blind from the use of the NSAID Sulindac (marketed as Clinoril). This TEN survivor spent 112 days in five hospitals, including the Massachusetts General Hospital Burn Unit. The disease seared her throat, stomach, and lungs, causing permanent disabilities. In total, it burned 65 percent of the skin off her body.
She had sought $4.5 million for past and future medical bills and lost earning capacity. Jurors awarded her the additional sum to compensate for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. It was the largest award ever in a New Hampshire product liability case.
When to Consult with an Attorney
If you or a loved one were injured by SJS, the experienced attorneys at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt can examine the facts of your situation and evaluate whether you have a viable claim. The firm is currently accepting medication-induced injury cases in all 50 states.
If you or somebody you know has been diagnosed with SJS, you should contact our lawyers immediately for a free case consultation. To schedule a meeting, fill out our form or call us directly at 1-800-590-4116.