Buffalo VA hospital warns 526 patients about infection risk from improperly cleaned scopes

Patients at the Buffalo VA Medical Center may be at risk after an employee failed to properly clean medical scopes.

A New York Veterans Affairs hospital has notified more than 500 patients that they may be at risk for infection due to improperly cleaned medical scopes.

The Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center notified 526 patients of the concern after a review of the disinfection process for endoscopes revealed that an employee of the hospital may not have followed the manufacturer’s instructions, reports The Buffalo News. Officials at the hospital said they will offer free screenings to these patients, and reassured those at risk that the chance of infection is “very low.”

"Notification does not mean veterans were infected," officials said Wednesday in a statement to the newspaper.

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The employee in question was fired, the officials said, and the hospital declined to elaborate further on the specifics of the case, like what procedures specifically were involved, how many scopes may have been improperly cleaned and when the error was discovered.

Medical scopes like these have been at the center of a number of outbreaks, some of which were deadly. Scopemaker Olympus has been under fire for more than year after its duodenoscopes, used in gastrointestinal procedures, were linked to a superbug outbreak that led to the deaths of at least 35 patients at hospitals across the country.

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Olympus controls about 85% of the U.S. market for duodenoscopes. The company voluntarily recalled the original scopes in January 2016 and also offered new guidelines on cleaning the products to reduce infection risk.

The risks associated with infection scopes may be greater than previously, thought, too, as FierceHealthcare has reported. Though physicians may be warned about the concerns, they may ignore them, and the intricate design of these devices makes it hard to tell when they’re truly clean, even if guidelines are followed.

Infection control is under the microscope now more than ever amid increasing concern about potentially deadly antibiotic-resistant infections. The World Health Organization has called the threat an urgent public health need.