Lawyers gather accounts of serious side-effects of taking common antibiotics

A Sydney law firm is investigating the possibility of a class action on behalf of people who have suffered side-effects from antibiotics.

Tasahra Christian, a partner at the Law Partners Personal Injury Lawyer (LPPIL), is investigating claims of adverse reactions to fluoroquinolones.

Fluoroquinolones are widely used to treat respiratory and urinary tract infections. But there is a growing catalogue of claims of adverse effects, many of them disabling, long lasting and potentially irreversible.

The claims include cases of peripheral nerve damage, central nervous system problems, tendon rupture or damage and aortic aneurysm or dissection.

What are fluoroquinolones?

Fluoroquinolones are a family of broad spectrum, systemic antibacterial agents commonly used to treat a range of infections. They have been found to be effective against such organisms as Staphylococci, Streptococcus pneumoniae and viridans.

Several fluoroquinolone-based drugs are available, notably ciprofloxacin, delafloxacin, gemifloxacin, levofloxacin, moxifloxacin, norfloxacin, and ofloxacin. Each has a slightly different chemical structure, but all contain the reactive chemical element fluorine.

Discovered in the 1960s, fluoroquinolones evolved from the antimalarial drug chloroquinesa. In the decades since, they have been developed for use in human and veterinary medicine. The fluoroquinolone group of drugs became a major ‘player’ in the mid-1980s to treat a host of bacterial infections.

In addition to urinary tract infections, these included bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, septicemia, joint and bone infections, and even anthrax.

As with many antibiotics, bacterial resistance to fluoroquinolones has become an issue, but Ms Christian’s potential class action highlights a problem to which all antibiotics are subjected.

What are the claims?

Ms Christian’s firm has not yet submitted a class action, but is in the process of investigation clients’ claims. This process will include determining whether, in the firm’s view, there was sufficient warning of potentially serious side-effects.

Product information on leaflets and packaging, as well as the manufacturers involved, will be scrutinised by LPPIL. Sufferers of adverse reactions to fluoroquinolone antibiotics may be eligible to join the potential class action, Ms Christian says.

One possible victim had a particularly harrowing experience. Canberra resident and mother of three Rebecca Goldfinch endured long-term pain and physical disabilities after taking ciprofloxacin in 2013.

The medication was prescribed for an ear infection, but Ms Goldfinch found herself in hospital after taking the first course. She presented to the hospital with severe burning pain in her legs, as well as rubbery, weak tendons.

After leaving hospital, she struggled to walk for six months and needed a walking aid. “Walking caused intense pain – I had to relearn how to walk because it just hurt so much,” she said.

Ms Goldfinch’s health issues continued for many years, and she remains affected to this day. “I don’t have any strength and I have to be really gentle doing anything physical so I don’t injure myself,” she said.

Ms Goldfinch said she has to manage constant pain. “It has caused me stress and anxiety but I do try to stay positive. Being angry is a waste of energy.”

Taking action

Ms Goldfinch is channelling her energy towards a greater understanding of the risks.

“What I would like to see is increased education and awareness around this drug,” she said. “It seems doctors are not very familiar with it, and nobody knows what my prognosis is.”

In the US, a number of class actions and what are known as multidistrict litigations have been lodged against manufacturers of fluoroquinolones. Whether LPPIL’s potential action opens the floodgates in Australia remains to be seen.

Have you been prescribed fluoroquinolones? Did you have an adverse reaction? Do you feel the packaging warnings were adequate? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Why you should avoid antibiotics after 40

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