Bactrim/Septra- An Antibiotic Cocktail Which Causes Stevens-Johnson Syndrome 

Though antibiotics are widely prescribed for many different issues and illnesses, it doesn’t mean that they are safe for everyone.  In fact, certain combinations can cause individuals serious illnesses that can lead to death.

Brand name antibiotic treatments Bactrim and Septra are one of those potentially dangerous combos. This combined antibiotic treatment is known as trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. Both drugs reduce the ability of some bacteria to utilize folic acid for growing. The combination of the two is much more effective than either by themselves.  The drugs are prescribed together for a variety of medical issues and illnesses.  It is a relatively common for a Bactrim/Septra prescription to be given for ear and urinary tract infections in children, and is also used in the treatment of bronchitis, travel-related diarrhea, and pneumonia. 

Signs and Symptoms of SJS

Side effect warnings for trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole should always include educating a patient on the seriousness of the development of any rash.  This can be one of the first signs of an emergency medical condition called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome or (SJS). Anyone suffering from Stevens-Johnson Syndrome requires immediate hospitalization and treatment.  If you or someone you know has developed any of the following symptoms after taking the Bactrim/Septra combination or any over-the-counter drugs later mentioned, seek immediate emergency medical attention. SJS may begin with flu-like symptoms which include aching joints and muscles, worsening fever, escalating to rashes, redness, blistering, and peeling of the skin and associated bleeding (Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis or (TEN)), bloody or purple/black coloring of the lips and difficulty swallowing.  Life threatening complications can develop secondary to developing SJS.  These complications include:  

Secondary Skin Infection (Cellulitis):  Cellulitis can lead to life-threatening complications, including sepsis.

Blood Infection (Sepsis): Sepsis occurs when bacteria from an infection enter your bloodstream and spread throughout your body. Sepsis is a rapidly progressing, life-threatening condition that can cause shock and organ failure;

Eye Problems:  The rash caused by Stevens-Johnson syndrome can lead to inflammation in your eyes. In mild cases, this may cause irritation and dry eyes. In severe cases, it can lead to extensive tissue damage and scarring that results in blindness;

Damage to Internal Organs:  It’s unusual for this condition to affect internal organs. But it may cause inflammation of the lungs, heart, kidneys or liver; and

Permanent Skin Damage:  When your skin grows back following Stevens-Johnson syndrome, it may have abnormal bumps and coloring. And you may have scars. Lasting skin problems may cause your hair to fall out, and your fingernails and toenails may not grow normally.

Other less serious side effects may occur as well, like dizziness, headache, lethargy, diarrhea, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to the sun’s rays which may be seen in part with SJS indicative symptoms. Additionally, the presence of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole in the body may lead to the formation of crystals in the urine which may damage the kidney and cause bleeding into the urine. It is important to drink additional liquids during therapy to prevent these side effects or others. 

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs Cause SJS

Other Drugs that Cause SJS

Please be mindful that there are other drugs that can cause SJS and TEN. These include: NSAIDS (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs), Quinolones (also known as fluoroquinolones) are drugs like Cipro, Levaquin, and Avelox), Penicillin, Phenytoin, Carbamazepine, barbiturates, anticonvulsants/anti-epileptics, and sulfa antibiotics. Sometimes SJS symptoms begin to occur over the course of 24 hours but many times, signs and symptoms of SJS can take up to week or two after first taking any of these drugs.  

Individuals at Heightened Risk for SJS

Those most at risk include: young children, pregnant mothers and their unborn children, the elderly, and anyone with weakened immune systems, those with HIV, Hepatitis, Pneumonia and Herpes (herpes simplex or herpes zoster).  

SJS Can Be Hard to Initially Spot

One of the scariest things about SJS is that the syndrome’s signs and symptoms are often mistaken for signs and symptoms of the illness for which the medications are being prescribed.  

As human beings it’s our knee-jerk reaction to self-medicate or over-medicate to lesson our maladies.  Many times, the drug regimen responsible the development of the SJS symptoms causes continued or worsening of the symptoms.  This causes the dosage to be increased which, in turn, heightens the progression of this debilitating syndrome.  Sadly, this is seen frequently in children’s cases involving SJS because good-intentioned parents aren’t educated about SJS and keep administering the medication to lessen their child’s flu-like symptoms. Read our blog about an actual case where this happened, here.  

SJS is more prevalent than you might think.  If a medical professional leaves off just one side effect when educating a patient on possible drug dangers, like “rash,” it could make the patient less responsive to the immediate danger they are in.  This kind of negligence would afford the patient less time to get emergency care, thereby siphoning off what precious life-saving moments are available for SJS treatments before the situation becomes life-threatening.  

Prescription drugs of any kind are serious business.  When a doctor fails to ask the right questions; advise the patient of all possible side effects risk factors, and possible drug interactions that might occur; perform the right preliminary tests; and/or fails to ask about specific, personal medical and family medical history including any occurrence of SJS in the patient’s past, patients can develop debilitating diseases.  These illnesses can be fatal. 

Rocky McElhaney Law Firm’s Dangerous Drug and Medical Negligence Attorneys are Here to Help

If you or a loved one has developed SJS or any serious, life-threatening complication or injury as a result of taking a medication, call the experienced and compassionate attorneys at the Rocky McElhaney Law Firm.  We have been serving injury victims across Tennessee and the Southeast for over 16 years.  We specialize in helping individuals and their families who have been hurt or killed by dangerous drugs and defective medical devices.  We only represent real people.  We go up against big corporations and we fight for the maximum recovery. You deserve the best and brightest lawyers on your case and in your corner.   Don’t settle for less.  Call (615) 425-2500 We fight for you!