An outbreak of infections and deaths apparently linked to poorly cleaned medical scopes at a Los Angeles hospital is bringing renewed attention to the broader problem of dirty surgical instruments — the subject of a major Center investigation.
In recent days, an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” known as CRE killed two people and infected five others at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center; an estimated 179 more patients may have been exposed from October to January after undergoing a procedure called an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. Authorities suspect the deadly germs were transmitted by inadequately sterilized medical scopes used in the procedure, known as duodenoscopes, which are difficult to clean because of their complex design.
But a 2012 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity revealed that the problem of dirty instruments is national in scope, and defies easy solutions. A companion piece was done by NBC’s TODAY show. The Center series, “Filthy surgical instruments: The hidden threat in America’s operation rooms,” detailed how contaminated medical instruments have been showing up in hospitals and outpatient surgery centers with alarming regularity. In 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs Affairs admitted that 10,737 veterans in Florida, Tennessee and Georgia were given endoscopies or colonoscopies since 2002 with endoscopes that may have been inadequately cleaned. Investigation of a 2008 hepatitis C outbreak that sickened at least six people in Las Vegas revealed that an outpatient surgery center was improperly cleaning endoscopes and reusing biopsy forceps designed for a single use.