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Endoscopes May Have Exposed 179 Patients to 'Superbug', LA Hospital Warns

Feb 23, 2015

The UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center has warned 179 patients that they may have been exposed to a drug-resistant bacteria during endoscopy procedures. Reuters reports that seven patients have been infected and that the "superbug" may have contributed to two deaths.

UCLA officials said the patients may have been infected by the carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE. Home testing kits are being offered to these patients and will be analyzed by the University of California, Los Angeles hospital system. The patients may have been exposed through a specialized endoscopy procedure between October and January. The device is a flexible tube inserted down the throat to diagnose and treat pancreatic and bile duct diseases.

The UCLA hospital system said that scopes were sterilized according to manufacturer's standards, but will now be implementing a more rigorous process. It said in the statement that "The two scopes involved with the infection were immediately removed, and UCLA is now utilizing a decontamination process that goes above and beyond manufacturer and national standards,"

The scopes in question began being used in June 2014. They have been permanently set aside and will be returned to the manufacturer, said UCLA spokeswoman Roxanne Moster. The circumstances of the two deaths and the conditions of the five other infected patients have not been disclosed.

According to the Los Angeles Times, UCLA found out about the outbreak late last month. UCLA said it alerted the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and the California Department of Public Health upon discovering the bacteria.

"Superbugs" can be a challenge to treat due to antibiotic resistance. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that in up to 50 percent of infected patients, these bacteria can contribute to death. Health officials say some 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses are related to superbugs every year.

According to Reuters, the three major manufacturers of the scopes are Olympus Corp, Fujifilm and Pentax. The FDA approved their disinfection recommendations.

The FDA recently warned that the design of endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) duodenoscopes could interfere with effective reprocessing, a multistep process used to sterilize medical equipment.

Hospitals have had reports of similar outbreaks in recent years, Reuters reports. Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle said that over two years, bacteria spread through contaminated endoscopes infected 32 people. Health officials said 11 of those patients eventually died, although it is unknown whether or not their deaths were caused by the bacteria since they were critically ill beforehand. Dozens of patients were also infected by contaminated endoscopes in Pittsburgh in 2012 and in Chicago last year.

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