LOS ANGELES — Almost two hundred patients at UCLA’s Medical Center were exposed to deadly super bacteria thanks to contaminated medical devices.

One hundred and eighty patients at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center were exposed to a drug-resistant superbug that was found in medical scopes used at the facility. Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae is the family of bacteria at fault in this case. It is deadly because the bacteria are completely resistant to even last-resort antibiotics. CRE is typically known to infect individuals who are in nursing homes, hospitals, or using breathing machines and catheters. Those with severely compromised immune systems are seriously vulnerable. If a CRE infection spreads to a person’s bloodstream, the bacteria can kill 40 percent to 50 percent of patients.

Contaminated Scope

The specialized medical device at issue here is a type of endoscope known as a duodenoscope. These scopes are inserted down the throats of patients, through the stomach, and into the small intestine. They are commonly used to treat cancers, gallstones, and other issues in the digestive tract.

While these scopes are very effective, they have a serious flaw: they are very difficult to clean properly. CRE bacteria have been increasingly common in hospitals potentially because of the design defect in these scopes that make them exceedingly difficult to sterilize. Considering more than half a million such procedures involve duodenoscopes, the potential harm by this design defect is worrisome. In the most recent cases at the UCLA Medical Center, of the seven scopes used at the time in question, two were suspected of transmitting the superbugs. The scopes used by the UCLA Hospital system were manufactured by Olympus Medical Systems Group.

As evident in the CRE infection cases, medical devices can be dangerous to patients even if they work perfectly fine. The very design of many medical devices can be defective and cause harm – in this case the inability to be cleaned poses a risk of infection by drug-resistant bacteria.

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