Over 150 people at the University of California in Los Angeles Medical Center (UCLA) have been exposed to what is being referred to as a “superbug,” or CRE (Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriacae). In addition, seven people have been infected and two people have died. It is not sure if the superbug bacteria contributed to the deaths.
The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center says that Los Angeles patients who contracted the superbug were contaminated with medical scopes that were used during endoscopic procedures between October 2014 and January 2015. An endoscope is a medical instrument inserted into the body so the doctor can see an organ or a cavity. It has a thin, flexible tube with a light and a lens, or even a miniature camera, on the end.
Even though UCLA claims the scopes were sterilized to the manufacturer’s standards, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released an advisory warning doctors that the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions are not enough to prevent infectious germs, which can hide in devices with complex designs and tiny parts, ensuring that complete disinfection is extremely difficult. UCLA says that now it is using a decontamination process that goes above and beyond even national standards. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the superbug can contribute to up to half the deaths of seriously infected patients.
UCLA says that CRE could have been passed from two infected endoscopes used during the diagnoses and treatment of pancreatic and bile duct problems. There were seven endoscopes, and two were found to be infected. When the superbug was discovered, UCLA sprang into action.
UCLA notified everyone who had the type of procedure that could have infected them and sent take-home tests as well. Federal, state and local health officials are investigating the CRE exposure. The superbug has more than one variety, and some varieties are resistant to most antibiotics, making it a nightmare to treat once it gets into the bloodstream.
This superbug can cause bladder infections or lung infections, leading to a cough, fever or chills. CRE is treated much like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) in that standard precautions are followed, including quarantine.
Outbreaks have been reported nationwide, except for these three states: Idaho, Alaska and Maine. In Seattle, 32 people were also infected by unclean endoscopes from 2012 to 2014. Superbug cases have also been found in Pittsburgh and Chicago, and in Seattle, the Virginia Mason Medical Center reported an outbreak of the superbug. In January, 35 patients were infected and eleven died. However, it is not clear if the CLE was a contributing factor in the deaths.
Since 2012, there have been six outbreaks. According to the LA Times, 150 patients were involved. In 2013, Illinois had many patients exposed to the superbug. Only some of those cases were linked to a tainted endoscope.
Instances of CRE outbreaks are growing within the United States and it has a high mortality rate. CDC epidemiologist Dr. Alex Kallen told the LA Times that CRE is not something wanted outside the hospital. Healthy people are unlikely to be infected by the superbug. High-risk people include patients in hospitals or nursing homes who need ventilators or catheters.
By Jeanette Smith