Medical facility testing new approach to duodenoscope sterilization

Over the last year, our blog has been closely following the patient safety threat posed by contaminated duodenoscopes, which are essentially specialized endoscopes placed down the throats of patients and used to treat a variety of digestive system disorders.

To recap, the problem with duodenoscopes is their design is such that biological material can remain on their surfaces even after undergoing thorough sterilization. This, in turn, can facilitate the growth and spread of deadly infections. Indeed, medical facilities across the nation have experienced an alarmingly high number of patient deaths caused by outbreaks of carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae — CRE — ultimately traced to tainted duodenoscopes.

One facility in particular that was hit hard by contaminated duodenoscopes was UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center, which saw a superbug outbreak claim the lives of three patients.

In the aftermath of these tragedies, UCLA began taking extra steps to ensure its duodenoscopes were safely sterilized, including using ethylene-oxide gas. However, given the extra costs associated with this step and the potential for damage to the duodenoscopes, it has been actively exploring other alternatives.

One such alternative is a new scope-cleaning machine developed by a small Arizona-based business. This cleaning machine differs from automated endoscope reprocessors, the scope-cleaning machine long used by hospitals, in that it uses a strong two-way water jet and no hose-like connectors.

According to its inventors, this powerful two-way stream is better able to remove the hard-to-reach biological debris trapped in the scope and could easily become the new standard for sterilization, supplanting even gas sterilization.

For now, UCLA is using the machine on a trial basis, carefully measuring bacterial levels and its overall performance. Results are not expected for a few months.

Here’s hoping this new machine can help resolve this health crisis, such that patients no longer have to greet the prospect of undergoing a procedure using a duodenoscope with extra trepidation.

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