Scope Implicated in Superbug Outbreak

Who knew that in these modern times you could get a deadly infection through medical devices meant to help you manage your disease?

The endoscope is a snake-like medical device used in endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). This procedure is for the diagnosis and treatment of liver, bile duct, and pancreatic diseases as well as some types of cancer. The device is inserted through the throat and anus. The problem is, it could also carry a deadly virus called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) as well as other pathogens from patient to patient. CRE is resistant to antibiotics, so the prognosis for CRE patients is not good. Some have a 50% chance of recovery; others die.

This was the case for two patients in UCLA in February 2015 who died after acquiring the CRE bug through the duodenoscope manufactured by Olympus. Two hundred others may possibly be infected, and one patient who was infected is currently suing Olympus. An article on the Resmini Law website describes a product liability issue along these lines. UCLA routinely carries out half a million ERCPs every year.

Despite stringent sterilization protocols, the risk of infection with endoscopes is still high because of its many grooves, nooks, and crannies, which makes it difficult to clean. The outbreak became more controversial when it turned out that the device, which has been on the market since 2010, did not even have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. The oversight has sparked outrage among the population as the implications become clear.

It has been revealed recently that more than 30 patients at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle may also have been infected with drug-resistant superbugs via an endoscope between 2012 and 2014. Florida, Pennsylvania, and Illinois have also made similar reports, but the patients were not informed at that time. In the Seattle outbreak, 11 have since died but it is unknown if it was due to the superbug. The medical devices involved had different manufacturers including Fujinon, Pentax Medical, and Olympus America.

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