Over the past several months, nearly 200 patients treated at California’s UCLA Medical Center may have been exposed to a deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or “superbug”, which has already been linked to at least two deaths and seven confirmed infections.
Medical officials from the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles indicate that patients may have been exposed to carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) due to contaminated endoscopes used during procedures between October 2014 and January 2015.
At least 179 patients have been notified that they may be at risk after undergoing endoscopic surgery, and seven confirmed infections have been identified among those exposed.
This recent outbreak of antibiotic-resistant bacteria related illnesses is just another of many, calling public attention to the growing problem of bacteria resistant to traditional antibiotics.
At UCLA, seven different endoscopes were used to conduct those procedures, however only two were found to be infected with the bacteria. Yet, every patient was notified and sent free home testing kits that UCLA will analyze.
The instruments were found to carry the CRE bacteria, despite being sterilized according to manufacturers specifications. The contaminated instruments were removed from the hospital and a heightened sterilization process was implemented.
Representatives of the University of California, Los Angeles said they only became aware of the infections in late January.
Growing Problem of Antibiotic-Resistent Bacteria
The endoscopes were used during pancreatic, bile-duct procedures. The devices are typically inserted down the throats of about 500,000 patients annually to treat cancers, gallstones and other digestive system ailments.
The procedures are considered minimally invasive, but doctors credit them for saving countless patient lives due to early detection and treatment.
Some scopes, however, are difficult to disinfect with conventional cleaning procedures after use because of the design of the instrument. This allows transmission of the bacteria from patient to patient much easier.
Research published last year also called into question the practice of routinely using aggressive rounds of antibiotics for resistant pathogens, revealing this may lead to the creation of even more strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, potentially sickening many more patients.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate more than 2 million Americans are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year and at least 23,000 die as result.
Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) is very difficult to treat because some varieties of the bacteria are resistant to most known antibiotics. Medical experts estimate that when CRE spreads to the bloodstream it can kill 40 to 50 percent of patients.
CRE also contributes to infections of the bladder and lungs and can lead to symptoms like coughing, fever and chills.
Infections involving CRE have been reported in every state except Idaho, Alaska and Maine. More than a half-dozen outbreaks similar to this have been reported across the country involving nearly 150 patients infected by CRE since 2012.
Dozens of patients were infected by a CRE contaminated endoscope in Illinois in 2013. Another string of infections in January in a Seattle hospital were linked to the CRE superbug, sickening 35 people and killing 11 patients.
In response to the growing concern, legislators recently introduced a bill that would help prevent the increase of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, while helping to spur pharmaceutical companies to creating new antibiotics.