Scopes’ ‘Superbug’ Danger Continues
With the current focus on controlling superbug escalating, it is difficult to understand the recent findings by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The committee determined it took the Food and Drug Administration 17 months to notify doctors of the risks associated with certain scopes used in gastrointestinal surgeries, specifically the duoendoscope manufactured by Olympus Corporation.
Outbreak at Virginia Mason
An outbreak of multidrug-resistant superbugs infected at least 32 patients at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center between 2012 and 2014. The pathogen was the deadly carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, which has a mortality rate of 50 percent, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
At the time, doctors were unsure what lead to the 11 deaths, but the cause was later traced to contaminated equipment. The Seattle outbreak is worst on record in the U.S., however; similar outbreaks were reported in Chicago, Pittsburg and Los Angles. The researchers found that infection control procedures at Virginia Mason were sound; it was the equipment that was faulty.
Despite following the manufacturer’s cleaning and disinfecting instructions, the scopes remained contaminated with the deadly bacteria. The distal ends of the flexible scopes contain elevator wire channels that harbor bacteria that cannot be removed through standard cleaning processes. The complex design of these scopes makes them a danger to public health.
A recent report issued by the Senate committee states it took the FDA 17 months to send out notifications to doctors regarding the risk of superbug infections related to these scopes. A 2013 document states Virginia Mason officials traced the infections back to the scopes, but the FDA did not issue a public warning until 2015. With no official alert, hospitals and clinicians may not have been unaware of the problems with these scopes, putting patients at risk.
FDA officials responded to the committee’s findings by saying they consider reducing bacterial infections a top priority and that they were taking the information in the report very seriously.
The report also led the manufacturer, Olympus Corporation to recall their duoendoscopes. Olympus is responsible for producing around 85 percent of the scopes used in the U.S. The corporation is facing lawsuits from infection survivors and the families of those who died during the outbreaks. There is evidence that Olympus may have been aware of the risk of contamination with these scopes, but did nothing to prevent it or warn healthcare officials of the problem. In February, Olympus will begin collecting the scopes blamed for the outbreaks.