Unsanitary Medical Scopes Lead to Antibiotic Infections
By: Cohen, Placitella & Roth @ Jul 07, 2016
Antibiotics are the drug of choice to treat bacterial infections. Since the 1940’s, medical professionals have depended on them to fight disease and save lives. But in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year at least two million people in the U.S. are infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. These infections kill at least 23,000 people every year. Now, a U.S. Senate health committee inquiry has found that, between 2012 and 2015, more than two dozen outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant infections in the U.S. and Europe were linked to contaminated medical devices called duodenoscopes.
The website Philly.com reports that the Senate’s investigation culminated in a report concluding that many more patients were sickened by the tainted scopes than federal regulators had previously estimated. At least 250 patients became ill as a result of these infections, including several right here in Philadelphia.
What is a duodenoscope?
As explained by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a duodenoscope is a flexible, lighted tube used to drain fluids from pancreatic and bile ducts blocked by cancerous tumors, gallstones, and other conditions. It is threaded through the mouth, throat, and stomach into the top of the small intestine. Duodenoscopes are used in hundreds of thousands of procedures every year. Because the scopes are complex and contain many tiny parts, they are difficult to thoroughly clean and disinfect between uses. If not properly cleaned, they can transmit bacteria from one patient to the next, causing infection.
Who is at fault?
According to the Philly.com story, the Senate report identifies many culprits, in addition to an inadequate warning system and insufficient oversight. These culprits include:
- Manufacturers of the scopes, who failed to inform health officials about problems with the devices, and failed to adequately test whether the scopes could be properly cleaned in a real-world setting.
- Hospitals, who failed to alert medical regulators when outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant infections occurred.
- The FDA itself, which took too long to identify the infections related to the devices and to warn the public.
Local hospitals involved
The Senate report names two Philadelphia hospitals as locations where outbreaks occurred: Fox Chase Cancer Center, which had three patients affected, and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, which had eight. Philly.com reports that Jefferson claims to have found no proof that its 2013 and 2014 “superbug” infections were caused by duodenoscopes. Fox Chase officials had not yet reviewed the Senate’s report.
Reach out to a Philadelphia attorney to learn more
We submit to procedures recommended by our doctors believing that those procedures will help make us well. We have no choice but to trust that all the equipment used in hospitals is sanitary and safe. But what if it isn’t? If you are concerned that you may have been harmed by tainted medical equipment or otherwise injured by a medical professional, reach out to our medical malpractice or product liability attorneys at Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C. Initial consultations are free of charge, so call us at (215) 567-3500, or reach us through our online contact form, available here.