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Reusable endoscopes tied to superbug infections

Hospitals around the country have seen infections spread because of inadequately sanitized reusable endoscopes.

Hospitals, specialty clinics and surgery centers around the country routinely use different types of surgical-grade endoscopes to diagnose and treat various gastrointestinal system ailments. An estimated 500,000 patients each year undergo procedures utilizing these complicated medical devices, most of them without incident. A percentage of them, though, instead of being cured, actually suffer harm from the scopes in the form of transmitted bacterial and viral infections.

The root of the problem

Specialized scopes have been in use for decades, and they have unequivocally made the accurate diagnosis and treatment of myriad conditions affecting patients' internal anatomy possible. There is no doubt that these scopes have played a vital role in modern medicine, but some specialists are questioning their continued use after outbreaks of treatment-resistant infections (known as "superbugs" because of the way in which they remain stubbornly deadly even in the face of the most potent antibiotic and antiviral agents on the market) killed or sickened people at prominent hospitals around the nation.

The problem with these devices comes not necessarily in the way in which they are used, but in the difficulty cleaning them. These scopes cannot simply be autoclaved like surgical implements or discarded like sponges; they are intricate, expensive devices with countless surfaces and crevices that give infection and retained tissue the perfect place to hide.

Furthermore, they cannot fully be dismantled, leaving staff no way of knowing if cleaning products have penetrated the interior walls to kill bacteria and viruses that could be lingering inside. It is also relatively easy for even trained staff members to miss critical aspects of the multi-step disinfecting protocol recommended by both scope manufacturers and the federal Food and Drug Administration, thus leaving future patients at risk for infections that could be transmitted by the devices.

How big is this problem?

Unfortunately, the true magnitude of infections caused by the use of scopes and related equipment remains unknown. Part of this is because of the nature of the reporting system; it is voluntary in nature, so some facilities might not want to risk being held liable for an outbreak and may choose to keep incidents in-house to avoid publicity. Another issue preventing an accurate reporting of these incidents is that oftentimes a physician diagnosing a patient with an infection will simply order antibiotics or antiviral medications to treat it without trying to determine how it was acquired.

Given that patients undergoing endoscopic procedures are usually suffering from one or more underlying health-related problems, they could be particularly susceptible to infection. That is why it is so very important for hospitals and other health care facilities to ensure the proper cleanliness of all instruments used on patients. If you or someone you love developed an infection following an endoscopic procedure or other surgical procedure, it is possible that negligence is to blame for your suffering. To learn more about legal options to hold at-fault parties responsible for the medical errors or mistakes that led to your injuries, contact the attorneys of Goethel Engelhardt, PLLC. Call the firm today at 866-822-8237 or send them an email.