At least 25 people worldwide have become seriously sick or have died because of “superbug” infections caused by contaminated surgical scopes. Called duodenoscopes, these instruments are used by hospitals across the world and have recently come under fire for their role in contributing to the injuries and deaths of over two dozen patients. Olympus, one of the most widely-used scope manufacturers, recalled the tools, yet hospitals continue to use them, and cause infections and wrongful death in the process.
What We Know About Duodenoscopes
The duodenoscope is a snake-like device that houses a camera on its end. The tube is used in about 700,000 procedures each year in the United States to treat cancer and other problems in the intestinal tract, as well as to drain bile and pancreatic ducts that are blocked by gallstones and other conditions. The procedure, called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatology, or ERCP, can help patients avoid surgery. Typically, the tube is inserted into the throat and is threaded down to the stomach and top of the intestines. The scope is also used to diagnose conditions, as it allows doctors to see inside of patients without having to make incisions.
Why the Scope Is Dangerous
Unlike typical endoscopes, which are often used by doctors to see inside patients, duodenoscopes contain movable “elevator” mechanisms at one end that allow the instrument to maneuver into ducts and fix fluid-drainage problems. This unique characteristic is the reason for the contamination risk.
The intricate design of the mechanism is especially difficult to sterilize between uses. As a result, bacteria collects in the device and allows medication-resistant “superbugs” to be spread from patient to patient. The victims of these superbug-contaminated scopes include two patients who died at the Ronald Regan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles and four patients who were sickened by a superbug infection at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, also in Los Angeles.
Since 2012, other outbreaks have occurred throughout the country: a whopping 44 people were infected after undergoing procedures that used duodenoscopes at Advocate Lutheran Hospital near Chicago, and at least 32 people were infected and 11 died at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. Additionally, more and more hospitals are beginning to report outbreaks that are linked to contaminated scopes in New York, Florida, and Wisconsin, as well as overseas in Germany, France, and the Netherlands.
Who Is to Blame?
Tokyo-based company Olympus sells about 85 percent of the duodenoscopes used by hospitals in the country. Other makers of the device are Fujifilm and Pentax, and all have been linked to the contaminated scopes.
In February 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warnings to doctors and hospitals alerting them of the dangers of using these specific scopes and how they can facilitate the spread of deadly bacteria. The agency also sent letters to Olympus, Fujifilm, and Pentax stating that they failed to adequately report problems with the devices and that, in some cases, they failed to ensure that the instruments could be sanitized properly.
A report created by the U.S. Senate, however, blamed hospitals, manufacturers, and the FDA for the outbreaks. The Senate accuses hospitals of not reporting the infections to manufacturers and federal agencies in a timely manner; manufacturers of failing to properly test if their scopes could be cleaned in real-world settings; and the FDA for not spotting the link between the infections and the scopes quickly enough and not reporting their findings to the public.
What Is Being Done
Because of the instances of contamination, Olympus recalled its duodenoscope, stating that it will replace one of its internal mechanisms that could allow bacteria to remain trapped inside after cleaning. Many hospitals, however, continue to use the device, putting patients at risk of developing life-threatening infections each and every day.
If your loved one died because of an infection that was caused by the duodenoscope, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim. Contact the attorneys of Wayne Wright today by calling 800-237-3334 and find out what we can do for you.