Unhygienic Scopes Continue to Spread Infection

In the same week in which the FDA issued warnings to companies whose invasive medical scopes are difficult to disinfect and that have spread deadly infections, another hospital’s infectious outbreak is being investigated for the same type of problem.

As the Los Angeles Times reported last week, Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., informed health authorities about the possible link between a small wave of infections and bacteria-trapping Olympus duodenoscopes. That company makes more than 8 in 10 of such devices used in the U.S.

As our blog explained when the first outbreaks were reported earlier this year, duodenoscopes are inserted into and down patients’ throats to view and treat a variety of serious, often life-threatening gastrointestinal problems. Although the FDA cited manufacturers for not reporting infections they knew were occurring because their equipment couldn’t be fully disinfected, the feds continue to allow their use because there are no options for the critically ill people who might benefit from them.

But as The Times story made clear, many medical experts say incidents of infection remain unreported, and their number might be quite higher than what we know.

More than 650,000 of these procedures (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, or ERCP) are done annually in the U.S. If your doctor recommends you undergo one, make sure you understand why he or she thinks it’s worth the risk.

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