Contaminated Medical Scopes Linked to Superbug Infections at LA-Area Hospital
An issue that has taken multiple lives
A drug-resistant “superbug” has infected some patients at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles. Health officials have linked the outbreak to the use of duodenoscopes. A duodenoscope is a medical device inserted into a patient’s throat to diagnose and treat gallstones, blockages, and cancers of the digestive tract. 
In a statement, the hospital said it notified public health authorities after several patients who underwent procedures using the Olympus Corp.-made duodenoscopes tested positive for the resistant pseudomonas bacteria.
The scopes in question have been quarantined while the hospital investigates whether the devices may be linked to other outbreaks. Dozens of people around the country have been infected with the drug-resistant bacteria.
Huntington Memorial Hospital did not specify the number of patients who have been infected; however, the Los Angeles Times reports the problem was first identified in June and three patient infections have been reported to health officials.
Contaminated duodenoscopes have been linked to superbug infections around the country. The reusable scopes are used for a procedure known as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, in which the scopes are placed down patients’ throats to search for and treat digestive issues, including cancer.
The infected patients were very ill before they underwent the duodenoscope procedures at Huntington Memorial Hospital, the facility said in a statement, and risk of the procedure was explained to each patient and family.
Earlier this year, several dozen people were infected with the superbug at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai and UCLA Ronald Reagan medical centers, including three individuals who died. Both hospitals claimed they strictly followed the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions, but the bacteria spread anyway. The medical centers have since enacted more stringent cleaning procedures for the devices, which contain crevices where bacteria can hide.
On Monday, the FDA posted a warning letter to its website warning Olympus Corp., the market leader for duodenoscopes in the U.S., saying the company waited three years to alert federal health regulators to a cluster of 16 infections in patients who underwent procedures using the scope in 2012. The agency also reported that FDA inspectors found that Olympus had no standard procedure for promptly reporting serious problems with its devices, as required by law for all medical device companies.
Warning letters were posted by the FDA on Monday to two other scope manufacturers citing problems with the testing, design, reporting and quality control of their devices.
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.