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Superbug Deaths Linked To Contaminated Endoscopes

You made your appointment; you wrote it on the calendar. Perhaps you already went to the drug store and purchased the many items your Texas doctor suggested to prepare for the big day: your colonoscopy. Whether this is your first procedure or you are a pro, it is never a pleasant experience. Now, there may be even more reasons to dread having a colonoscopy or any internal examination that uses a scope device.

Despite the urgings of physicians and medical groups, health screenings may actually place you in danger. Recent studies show that inherent flaws in the design of some scopes may raise the risk of you developing a deadly infection.

Here’s something you don’t want to think about

One researcher compared what he saw in this study to the brown crud that bakes into a roasting pan when cleaning does not completely remove food particles. The researcher was describing what remains on many reusable scope devices after doctors use them to examine a patient internally. After following prescribed cleaning methods, technicians found that only 48 percent of gastroscopes came clean.

The technicians then cleaned the scopes again and sent them through two rounds of automated disinfection at the highest level. Eleven percent of those scopes retained some leftover materials. What remained on the scopes included traces of the following:

  • • Blood
  • • Gastrointestinal tissue
  • • Brown stains
  • • Fecal debris
  • • Residual fluid

In a word, researchers found bacteria. They concluded that, in typical medical environments, even after technicians clean and disinfect the scopes, traces of bacteria remain and may subsequently end up in the bodies of the next patients the scopes examine. Scientists believe this transfer of bacteria may be responsible for some of the superbugs spreading through hospitals across the country. In fact, in the past few years, at least 35 patients have died from superinfections linked to certain endoscopes.

What can be done?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ordered hospitals to remove scopes that show any signs of wear and tear or damage. Debris becomes trapped in tiny scratches, making it difficult to clean. The design of some scopes may be to blame since they are especially vulnerable to the acids and bile in the intestinal tract and damage easily during use.

Although the researchers were finally able to clean some of the scopes to an acceptable level for reuse, there is no promise that your medical team will have the time, equipment or knowledge to ensure a thorough cleaning before they insert the scope into your body. In fact, it is likely that the scope your doctor uses goes through numerous procedures in a day, making it difficult for technicians to examine it for defects or bacteria.

While medical professionals tout the benefits of frequent screenings, and endoscopes make less-invasive internal examinations possible, you may still be at risk for serious and deadly infections from an ill-cleaned or poorly designed scope. It is your right to ask your doctor about the cleaning protocol the facility uses. It is also your right to seek legal assistance if you believe your injury or illness is the result of a contaminated scope.