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Study: superbugs spread by contaminated medical scopes

According to University of Minnesota study from last month, the spread of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" in medical facilities across the nation could be due to contamination of medical devices. Duodenoscopes, which are used to examine the small intestine during common procedures, have left dangerous bacteria behind in cases even after cleaning and sterilization. There are an estimated 700,000 uses of the device in procedures every year.

The FDA also recently found that from Jan. 1, 2010 to Oct. 21, 2015, there were around 350 patients who were treated at 41 medical facilities across the U.S. and overseas that were infected by duodenoscopes. Leftover fluids are being found in the scopes, which can breed bacteria that can pass to the next patient. 

The Minnesota study find that the fluids that show up in similar colonoscopes and gastroscopes are likely from infant gas suppressant drops used on patients to increase visibility for the medical staff during a procedure. The sugars and thickeners used in the drops can provide perfect conditions for the bacteria to grow. And because they also contain silicone, the residue is very difficult to remove with traditional cleaning methods, and could further protect the bacteria from dying.

What can be done to prevent infections?

The authors of the study encourage doctors to discontinue or limit the usage of the anti-gas drops, along with more studies to see if there is a definite link from the drops to the deadly superbugs. In addition, they recommend that scope manufacturers should issue further warnings and education to medical centers with better instructions on cleaning and a warning about using smaller amounts of the drops or not using them at all.

However, until more studies beyond these two are released, it's difficult to pin the onus on the gas drops. Cleaning methods must be improved, but the current design of the scopes still allow for some of the fluids to remain untouched inside. Pressure on the makers to improve the designs may be another option to improve safety and prevent contamination of the devices.

If you or someone in your family have caught one of the "superbugs" after a procedure utilizing a duodenoscope, colonoscope or gastroscope, it may be best to contact an attorney to explore your options.

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