Two new mothers unlikely to have contracted herpes during surgery, inquest told

Kimberley Sampson (left) Samantha Mulcahy (right) died weeks apart after being operated on by the same surgeon Credit: PA

It is unlikely that two new mothers who died with herpes contracted the virus during surgery, an inquest has heard.

Mid Kent and Medway Coroners is investigating the cases of Kimberley Sampson, 29, and Samantha Mulcahy, 32, who died in 2018 after the same obstetrician conducted their Caesareans.

They were treated weeks apart in hospitals run by East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust (EKHUT).

Both died with herpes shortly after giving birth and their families have been waiting almost five years for answers.

Consultant clinical scientist Michael Kidd said it is “very tricky” to say when it is most likely the women were infected.

An East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust sign Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

He told the inquest in Maidstone, Kent, into their deaths: “It could have been before initial presentation. It could have been some time after that.

“My opinion is that it is unlikely to have occurred in the context of an operative procedure.”

He suggested it is possible it was found “in the community, I cannot say where or at what stage”.

Ms Sampson died in May 2018 after giving birth at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, and Ms Mulcahy died in July 2018 at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, both in Kent.

The surgeon, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has previously told the hearing his hands were fully scrubbed, double gloved and he was wearing a mask during procedures.

He also said he had no lesions and was not infected but was not tested for the virus.

The inquest has been told of two theories which could indicate that the doctor who conducted both women’s surgeries was a potential source of infection.

The first theory indicates there could have been a droplet infection at the time of the surgery.

Another theory suggests the infection could have come from a whitlow, which is a herpes infection of the finger.

Medical staff work under strict rules on taking precautions to limit potential infection to themselves and their patients, the inquest was told.

Dr Kidd said that “such individuals are very careful as to when they wear masks and gloves” and he felt it would take a “gross breach of professional precautions” to make spreading the virus to the patient possible.

On whether it was impossible or less likely the virus could have been spread by a droplet infection, Dr Kidd said “it would have needed large droplets” to spread the infection and “I think it would have been quite unlikely”.

Ms Sampson’s procedure took a maximum of two hours and 40 minutes while Ms Mulcahy’s lasted for a total of 90 minutes.

Dr Kidd told the inquest: “That does not seem like a long exposure to me for a mask to become less efficient”.

Kimberley Sampson was just 29-years-old when she died in May 2018 Credit: Family handout

With regard to whether a medic who had a whitlow could potentially be the cause of infection, Dr Kidd thought it was “highly unlikely” that a surgeon who was wearing two pairs of gloves may have passed on the virus.

He added: “I think it is highly unlikely but I would never say never. The surgeon has two gloves on and if he has never had any lesions or oral lesions, and he has given evidence on oath, then I would believe that.”

He ruled out the instruments used during surgery as they had been sterilised, sexual transmission or blood transfusion as possible sources of the infection.

It comes after a herpes specialist previously said the chance they had picked up the virus before being admitted was "vanishingly small".

Peter Greenhouse, a gynaecologist and venereologist with expertise of the herpes virus, told the inquest the virus samples taken from both women were "exceptionally closely related but they were not identical".

He told the inquest in Maidstone there were very small differences in the viral genome which showed there had been no contamination of the samples.

He said: "Exposure at the time of surgery is unquestionably the most likely explanation."

Ms Sampson’s baby boy – her second child – was delivered at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in May 2018.

She died at the end of the month in hospital in London. In July 2018, first-time mother Ms Mulcahy died at the William Harvey Hospital.

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