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Scopes that caused UCLA superbug deaths linked to past outbreaks

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The FDA warns that the scopes design 'may impede effective cleaning.'

Olympus

The family of a 48-year-old woman who died in November is suing the maker of a medical scope, following a superbug outbreak at a UCLA medical center late last year. The woman, Antonia Cerda, died in November. But what seemed like an isolated incident is quickly turning into a much bigger scandal. The type of medical scope that spread the superbug in California has been implicated in a number of other deaths in others states, reports Bloomberg.

the superbug can kill up to 50 percent of infected patients

Seven patients have been infected with an antibiotic-resistant superbug called "CRE" from contaminated medical scopes made by Olympus, according to UCLA. So far, two people have died, and another 179 may have been exposed. The superbug can kill up to 50 percent of infected patients.

The same type of scope — which is used to view the gastrointestinal tract for diseases of the bile duct, pancreas, and liver, and is called a duodenoscope — was implicated in an outbreak that infected patients at two hospitals in Florida in 2008 and 2009, according to Bloomberg. During that outbreak, 70 patents were infected, 15 of whom died. The outbreak was reported to the FDA, device manufacturers, and the CDC, according to the Florida Department of Health. But the FDA says that it doesn’t have a record of the outbreak in Florida, or of the device implicated in the outbreak. "We are aware, via a search of medical literature, of cases of CRE at two hospitals in the Tampa area during that time," FDA spokeswoman Leslie Wooldridge told Bloomberg in an email.

the FDA doesn’t have a record of the 2008 outbreak

A second outbreak took place in Seattle in 2012. At the time, 32 patents were infected; 11 of those patients died. At least three other outbreaks — in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Pittsburgh — have taken place since 2013, reports Al Jazeera America.

CRE stands for "carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae." A CRE infection is very difficult to treat because it's highly resistant to antibiotics. Healthy people don't tend to become infected by these bacteria. They mostly infect people with compromised immune systems — like people in hospitals.

Last week, the FDA issued a letter designed to warn health professionals that the scope’s design "may impede effective cleaning." But health professionals have known for decades that these scopes can transmit bacteria between patients, reports Fox. Now that superbugs are involved, the problem appears to be more urgent — and more deadly.

The scope’s design "may impede effective cleaning."

Cerda's family isn't the only affected party going after Olympus. A second patient — an 18-year-old man who is still hospitalized at UCLA — is suing the manufacturer for negligence, misrepresentation, and fraud.

Olympus has not yet commented on the lawsuits, but it gave America Tonight the following statement: "While all endoscopes, including duodenoscopes, require thorough reprocessing after patient use in order to be safe, the Olympus TJF-Q180V requires careful attention to cleaning and reprocessing steps, including meticulous manual cleaning, to ensure effective reprocessing." These scopes are mostly made by Olympus, Pentax, and Fujifilm. They are used in approximately 500,000 medical procedures each year.

Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to the 48-year-old patient who died as a man named "Antonio Cerda." The patient is in fact a woman named Antonia Cerda.