how high is the number of infections related to contaminated scopes

For several months now, our blog has been following the infection epidemic associated with duodenoscopes, a medical device run down the throat that is used roughly 650,000 times per year here in the U.S. to treat gastrointestinal issues like tumors, gallstones and other blockages in the pancreatic and bile ducts.

The infection risk posed by duodenoscopes has been linked to its elevator mechanism, which is located at the bottom of the device and enables operation of tiny surgical tools. Here, the problem is the elevator mechanism can retain trace amounts of bacteria despite cleaning and disinfection, potentially exposing patients to antibiotic-resistant superbugs like C. diff or CRE.

Over the last few years, hospitals across the U.S., including several here in Pennsylvania, have reported more and more patient-related illnesses and fatalities related to contaminated duodenoscopes. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received 30 reports of duodenoscope-related infections during the first six weeks of 2015 alone, putting this year on pace to see the most reports ever.

As shocking as all this is, there are many in the medical community who believe the number of duodenoscope-related infections and fatalities may be much higher than originally thought thanks to a host of factors, including:

  • Hospitals and state health departments have long mistaken infections otherwise attributable to contaminated scopes to other more well-known causes.
  • Hospitals and state health departments are still struggling to make the necessary links between patient infections and contaminated scopes despite all that has been uncovered in recent years.
  • The reporting systems of the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are less than reliable, with both hospitals and device manufacturers declining to report all known incidents of duodenoscope-related infections.

All of this is problematic, say experts, as it prevents the FDA and CDC from uncovering the true extent of the problem, and, more importantly, devising an effective and feasible solution.

Here’s hoping this situation is rectified sooner than later, such that patients can feel safe when their physician orders a procedure using a duodenoscope.

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