UCLA reported Wednesday that nearly 180 patients at its Ronald Reagan Medical Center may have been exposed to deadly bacteria from contaminated medical scopes, NBC News reports. Already, two deaths have been linked to the bacterial “superbug.”
The UCLA Health System found that seven patients were infected by the drug-resistant superbug known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, during endoscopic procedures between October and January. The two patients who died were of the seven infected with CRE. The number of infected patients may grow, as more patients get tested.
UCLA discovered the bacterial outbreak in late January while running tests on a patient. This week, it began notifying 179 other patients, who underwent similar endoscopic procedures, that they may be infected by the superbug as well. The UCLA Health System has sent those patients free home-testing kits, which the university will analyze to detect if they are infected.
According to an internal investigation by UCLA, the infections may have been transmitted through specialized endoscopes used during the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic and bile-duct problems. The endoscopes are inserted down patients throats.
University spokeswoman Dale Tate said, “We notified all patients who had this type of procedure, and we were using seven different scopes. Only two of them were found to be infected.”
According to Tate, the two endoscopes in question had been “sterilized according to the standards stipulated by the manufacturer.” The two scopes have since been removed, and UCLA “is now utilizing a decontamination process that goes above and beyond the manufacturer and national standards,” Tate says.
Last month, Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle acknowledged that 32 patients between 2012 and 2014 were sickened by contaminated endoscopes. Eleven of those patients died.
Since 2012, there have been a handful of bacterial outbreaks in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Washington and now California. These outbreaks raise questions about whether or not hospitals and medical-device companies are doing enough to protect patient safety. Some consumer advocates are demanding greater disclosure to patients of the increased risk of infection before undergoing these types of procedures.
Doctors across the country are worried that outbreaks, such as the UCLA superbug, may deter patients from seeking the care they need.