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Surgical Gowns Fail to Protect Against Ebola

Again and again in the news we have heard that Ebola is only transmittable through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, and that if proper safety protocols are handled it is an extremely difficult illness to transmit from person to person. And experts all seem to agree that this is true. But when the makers of equipment designed to protect medical professionals from disease exposure fails, the story changes. Just like medical device failures, these failures could be deadly.

Lawsuit Alleges Kleenex-Maker Falsely Claimed its Surgical Gowns Protect Against Ebola

Kimberly-Clark Corp. is the maker of Kleenex, Huggies and Depends diapers, and many other household products. The company also makes surgical gowns. CBS News reports that those surgical gowns have lead to the company being sued. The $500 million lawsuit claims that the company knew for at least a year that its Microcool Breathable High Performance Surgical Gown had failed tests, showing that it was not impermeable to blood and microbes, but that the company continued the claim that the gown provided the highest level of protection against diseases including Ebola. According to the lawsuit, some industry tests gowns resulted in “catastrophic” failures. The lead plaintiff’s attorney in the case, Michael Avenatti, states that, “WE are aware of individuals that have contracted various diseases while wearing the gown, but we are not at liberty to disclose what those are at the present time.” This unwillingness to disclose could be due to privacy laws.

The Montana Standard’s report on the case indicated that the Texas hospital where two nurses contracted Ebola stocked these gowns in the past, but it is yet unknown whether those nurses were wearing these gowns when they became infected.

Lawsuit Seeks Class-Action Certification

The lawsuit seeks class-action status. It has been initially filed by a surgeon in Los Angeles named Hrayr Shahinian. Doctor Shahinian alleges that he has used the Kimberly-Clark Corp. gowns in the past and those was potentially exposed to harm. The actual claims in the lawsuit are for fraud, false advertising, negligent misrepresentation, and unfair business practices. If class-action status is awarded, the class could be quite large, as the plaintiff’s attorney alleges that tens of millions of the gowns have been sold worldwide. According to a report by SFGATE, Kimberly-Clark has “more than half the worldwide market for surgical gowns that meet the highest level of resistance to transfers of bodily fluids.”

Ebola is Not the Only Concern

While Ebola may likely be the first concern that comes to mind, given the current news coverage of the disease, if the allegations in this lawsuit are accurate, the people who used these gowns could have been exposed to any sort of disease that is transmitted through the blood. These blood-borne diseases include, but are not limited to, HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and viral hemorrhagic fevers.

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