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Tainted Medical Scopes Possibly Responsible For Three Deaths In Pasadena

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At least three patients died last year at Pasadena's Huntington Hospital due to an outbreak likely caused by tainted medical scopes, according to the L.A. Times.

Scopes, or duodenoscopes as they are formally known, are those creepy but useful snakelike tubes with the little camera at the end that can be inserted into a patient's throat and upper gastrointestinal tract. According to the FDA, the reusable devices, which are used in more than 500,000 procedures a year, have been linked to the transmission of deadly bacteria because of a design flaw that makes the instrument's tip difficult to clean.

The L.A. Times reports that officials at Huntington Hospital had confirmed the outbreak in August, but declined to state the patients' conditions at the time. The hospital later notified Olympus Corp., the device's manufacturer, of the deaths, and they became public knowledge through a report the company issued to the FDA. According to Olympus’ report, three patients contracted a serious bloodstream infection following procedures that used the scope, and all three also tested positive for pseudomonas, a drug-resistant bacteria (and possible superbug).

In a statement to LAist, Dr. Paula Verrette, Huntington Hospital Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President, Quality and Physician Services, said the hospital had followed all manufacturer and FDA cleaning guidelines for the devices, and that they had quickly notified relevant public health authorities including Pasadena Public Health and the Food & Drug Administration as soon as they discovered the link between the pseudomonas infections and endoscope procedures. "Simultaneously," she said, "consistent with our commitment to our patients and their families, our physicians began outreach to every patient who underwent a procedure using an Olympus scope in the preceding months."

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The CDC reports that pseudomonas can be spread in hospitals on the hands of healthcare workers or by equipment that gets contaminated and is not properly cleaned. Garden variety pseudomonas infections can usually be treated with antibiotics, but things get more complicated in a hospital setting, where the bug often develops a resistance to antibiotics. According to the CDC, the drug-resistant pseudomonas can be deadly for patients in critical care.

As the L.A. Times reported back in August, the pseudomonas found at Pasadena's Huntington Hospital were similar to the CRE superbug outbreak at UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Center that sickened eight patients, including three who died. Patients at Cedars-Sinai have also been infected from tainted Olympus scopes.

Olympus recently modified the the design of one of their scopes to reduce the risk of bacterial infections and issued a voluntary recall of the original model in January 2016, according to an FDA briefing. But don't exhale yet—according to the Times, the reusable scope supposedly to blame for the Pasadena outbreak was actually a different Olympus model than the one they just recalled.

Mark Miller, a spokesman for Olympus, told the L.A. Times that the company “understands and shares the public’s concern regarding reports of infections.” According to the L.A. Times, Olympus sells about 85% of the duodenoscopes used in the United States.

"We continue to be in contact with patients and families regarding this matter. We continue to cooperate closely with all investigations into this national health crisis. Out of respect for the confidentiality of our patients and in compliance with HIPAA and other privacy statutes, we feel it would be inappropriate to discuss patient health status or any patient’s passing publicly," Verrette told LAist.