May 10, 2013 — In the first-ever Humira histoplasmosis lawsuit to go to trial, an Illinois state court jury has awarded the plaintiff more than $2.2 million against Abbott Laboratories. The verdict was reached yesterday in favor of Milton Tietz by a 12-member jury in Cook County, Illinois, finding that Abbot was negligent for failing to warn about the risk of a life-threatening fungal infection called histoplasmosis.
The plaintiff is the husband of Delores Tietz, who was prescribed Humira for rheumatoid arthritis in October 2009. After taking the drug for nearly seven months, she began suffering chest pain and fevers. Doctors struggled to diagnose her illness for weeks, until finally determining that it was a Humira-induced histoplasmosis infection.
Histoplasmosis is a life-threatening fungal infection that occurs from breathing spores of Histoplasma capsulatum in the environment, usually in caves or areas with large amounts of bird or bat droppings. Symptoms of the illness are similar to pneumonia.
Most people who inhale fungal spores from Histoplasma capsulatum do not get sick. However, individuals who take Humira (adalimumab), a tumor-necrosis factor blocker (TNF), have a higher risk of cancer, infections, and opportunistic fungal infections like histoplasmosis.
The reason why Humira is associated with life-threatening fungal infections is that it treats auto-immune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease) by inhibiting the body’s immune response. Although this can decrease symptoms caused by an over-reactive immune system, it can decrease defenses against normally harmless bacteria and funguses.
One of the first studies to warn about this risk was published in 2006 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, after researchers found that Humira could double the risk of tuberculosis and pneumonia. Although evidence linking Humira and infections has been growing for years, many Humira lawsuits allege that Abbott did not do enough to warn about the risk.
In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a Safety Communication to warn about the deadly risk of histoplasmosis from Humira and similar drugs. However, Abbott did not send a letter to warn physicians about the risk of infections until May 17, 2010, more than 20 months after the FDA warning and 10 days after Mrs. Tietz was hospitalized with a histoplasmosis infection.