The Olympus Corporation, based in Japan, was allegedly aware of superbug outbreaks in three countries as early as 2013 and did not alert American hospitals about possibly deadly infections from contaminated medical scopes known as duodenoscopes. After two-dozen infections were reported in Dutch and French hospitals, Olympus warned European customers that their medical scope may become contaminated, according to the Los Angeles Times.
When a similar outbreak occurred in a Pittsburgh hospital, concern grew in the United States. The chief manager for market quality administration in Tokyo assured an executive in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, that, “It is not needed to communicate to all the users actively because a company assessment of the risk to patients found it to be ‘acceptable.’”
Outbreaks of infections at hospitals over the next three years occurred in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, and Denver, among other American cities. Since 2013, at least 35 people have died in U.S. hospitals after suffering from tainted gastrointestinal scopes made by Olympus, report public health officials and hospitals.
Olympus is being criticized for negligence and inaction that may have prevented outbreaks and deaths. Lawsuits are being filed by American patients and their families, which have led to federal prosecutors investigating Olympus’ handling of the infections. As part of a patient lawsuit, internal emails that reflect internal conflicts inside Olympus concerning the company’s response to patient safety may become crucial evidence and were recently filed in a Pennsylvania court.
In order to diagnose and treat problems such as cancer and blockages in the bile duct, a duodenoscope, which is a snake-like device, is placed down a patient’s throat. Allegedly, flaws in the design make it difficult to clean, causing the serious safety hazard.
A U.S. recall of the Olympus duodenoscopes was not announced until January 2016–two days after a Congressional report cited Olympus for its failure to notify patents, doctors, and hospitals sooner. The Olympus duodenoscopes remain on the market and are in use while the company works on repairs. Next month a nationwide recall is expected to be completed, reports the Los Angeles Times.