True extent of scope-related superbugs unknown

One reason that superbug outbreaks linked to medical scopes continue to rise is because many cases of the deadly infections go unreported, a USA Today investigation finds.

The industry has focused much attention on antibiotic-resistant infections linked to reusable duodenoscopes, which clinicians use in endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatograph (ERCP) procedures, after tests revealed contaminated devices were the source of illnesses and patient deaths in Seattle, Chicago and Pittsburgh. But USA Today reports that federal officials just learned of two more scope-related infections in Indiana that were not disclosed previously. And a Los Angeles Times report this week indicates that other types of medical scopes are also linked to the illnesses.

"The number of transmissions is basically unknowable," Alex Kallen, M.D., an infectious-disease physician who coordinates epidemiological investigations at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told USA Today. "There is clearly a detection problem in identifying [duodenoscope-related] infection clusters."

Furthermore, he said that even when the CDC becomes aware of infections, it doesn't have a mandatory system to report these outbreaks. Hospitals and local health departments must voluntarily report them. As a result, no one knows the extent of the problem. This week the Food and Drug Administration issued recommendations for cleaning the scopes but these steps are also voluntary.

Many infectious disease experts now believe that scopes have spread bacteria for years, but clinicians could easily treat the illnesses with antiobiotics. As bacteria becomes more resistant to antibiotics, however, these superbug infections became more deadly and difficult to treat. Researchers will now focus on determining the true incidence rate for scope-related infections, according to the article.

The superbug threat has led Consumer Reports to deem it the "health crisis of this generation" and last year a British government report indicated that antibiotic-resistant bacteria could result in 10 million deaths a year across the globe and cost $100 trillion per year by 2050, This week the CDC urged healthcare organizations to work together to stop the spread of the infections, stating that individual efforts are not enough to combat them, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the USA Today report

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