At least 179 patients at the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center may have been exposed to a ‘superbug.’ The ‘superbug’ is thought to have contributed to the deaths of two of the seven patients known to have been infected by the bacteria.
Patients may have been infected by the bacteria carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, during endoscopy procedures. During these procedures, specialized endoscopes are inserted down patients’ throats and into their stomach or intestines in order to treat pancreatic or bile duct diseases. According to the hospital, two of the seven endoscopes used in this procedure were contaminated with the deadly bacteria.
Once CRE gets into the bloodstream, it causes lung or bladder infections that often lead to fever, coughing and possibly death. The bacteria usually impacts patients whose immune systems are already compromised because of other illnesses or old age. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and PRevention, the germs cause death in up to 50 percent of infected patients.
Although the UCLA hospital system claims that it has been thoroughly sterilizing the scopes, the design of endoscopes makes it difficult for the scopes to be as meticulously cleaned as they should be. Medical experts are now advocating for the use of disposable, single-use instruments rather than ones that need to be sterilized after each procedure. The hospital has offered all patients home testing kits that will be analyzed by the hospital to determine who is infected by the antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Unfortunately ‘superbugs’ are quite common and are linked to approximately 23,000 deaths and two million illnesses a year.