Superbug-linked scopes: Olympus told US not to issue warning to hospitals

The country’s leading gastrointestinal scope manufacturer told company representatives in the U.S. not to issue a broad contamination warning to hospitals, despite a superbug outbreak linked to the scopes, Kaiser Health News reports.

Olympus, which is based in Japan, controls about 85 percent of the U.S. market for such scopes, and, according to KHN, internal emails show that company leaders in both countries disputed the best response to the infection outbreak, which over the course of several years left 35 dead and sickened patients all over the country, including in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Denver. The emails were released as part of a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania by one of the infected patients, KHN reports.

The scopes, which were tainted by carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), remained on the market through January of this year, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Congressional investigators, meanwhile, are looking at loopholes that would have allowed the defective products to continue to be sold--even at a markup. During the outbreak, Olympus raised prices on its scopes to maximize profits.

After an infection linked to the scopes was confirmed in Pittsburgh, officials in Japan declined to issue an alert in the U.S., despite the fact that European hospitals had been warned about the infection risk after an outbreak was reported in the Netherlands and France, KHN reported. American staffers questioned the decision to blame the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for failing to clean the devices properly, as no investigation had been conducted by Olympus itself into the cause of the contamination, according to the emails.

The emails released as part of the Pennsylvania lawsuit could be key evidence for future court filings, according to KHN. Pete Kaufman, a Los Angeles attorney representing more than 20 patients infected by superbugs from the Olympus scopes, told the publication that the emails are concrete evidence that the company knew patients were in danger and chose not to act.

Such scopes are used in millions of procedures each year, although certain factors can make some patients more susceptible than others, including a history of bile duct cancer.

- read the KHN article