- A superbug infection at a Seattle hospital caused 35 patients to fall ill and 11 to die, according to a new report.
- The patients at Virginia Mason Medical Center were infected after contact with endoscopes contaminated with a drug-resistant bacteria known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) between 2012 and 2014. CRE is fatal in approximately 50% of cases and is resistant to most antibiotics.
- Because most patients who underwent the procedure were already critically ill with colon or pancreatic cancer, health officials said it remains unclear what role the bacteria had.
The United States has come a long way in reducing hospital infections, as evidenced by recent CDC reports. But while hospital personnel say the devices were cleaned in compliance with the manufacturer's instructions, they apparently carried traces of the bacteria. This could be dismissed as an isolated incident, except that similar cases of patients contracting bugs from endoscope have recently occurred in health facilities in Chicago and Pittsburgh, CBS News noted. And while the hospital is now taking extra steps to ensure endoscopes are clean and bug-free, such as holding cleaned devices for 48 hours before using them again, the series of incidents underscores the need for all hospitals to review their infection-control and sterilization policies.
That said, this might not be entirely the hospital's fault. A few experts blame the design of the particular endoscope in question, which has "elevator wire channels" at the end of the scope. These small flaps, which hold stents and other components, are difficult to clean and might provide a haven for bacteria . The CDC said the design "makes them difficult to clean with the potential for contamination persisting following reprocessing and subsequent transmission of pathogenic bacteria to patients." The CDC has been in touch with the FDA, but so far no warning or recall has been issued, despite encouragement from the hospital to do so. An FDA spokesperson told CBS News that such action was unlikely as the agency believes the device has a low infection rate and is a critical tool in a lifesaving procedure performed on as many as 500,000 patients per year.
Another layer: CRE's antibiotic resistance underscores perhaps the grimmest problem hospitals face in trying to reduce HAIs. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria kill at least 700,000 people per year and the anticipated death rate is rising rapidly, with projections of another 10 million deaths by 2050 unless a solution is found. There is some hope, however. According to a report in the journal Nature, a recently-discovered antibiotic called teixobactin thwarts even the most mutable, deadly bacteria—including MRSA—suggesting a light at the end of the tunnel in the fight against antibiotic-resistant infections.
Want to read more? You may enjoy this Q&A with the lead scientist behind teixobactin on the implications of the discovery for hospitals.