Health

Huntington Hospital suspects endoscope link to infections

The tip of an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) duodenoscope.
The tip of an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) duodenoscope.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration/AP

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Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena is investigating "a potential link" between a number of bacterial infections at its facility and an endoscope that has caused "superbug" infections and some deaths at other hospitals.

The hospital is monitoring "a small number" of patients who underwent an endoscopic procedure and are now infected with the bacteria pseudomonas, according to Dr. Paula Verrette, the facility's senior vice president and chief medical officer for quality and physician services.

The hospital declined to provide further details on the number of patients involved, or when they were infected. 

Pseudomonas is fairly common, but some strains do not respond to antibiotics.

The procedure in question is an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, or ERCP, which involves threading the scope down the throat to perform diagnosis and treatment in the GI tract.  

After discovering the possible link between the scopes and the pseudomonas infections, Huntington alerted the affected patients and took steps to "closely monitor" them, Verrette said in a statement, adding that the hospital also "moved quickly to notify public health authorities" and quarantine the scopes.

The investigation at Huntington comes after months of inquiry by the FDA and the Justice Department into several superbug outbreaks earlier this year, including at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center, where three patients died. There were also similar infections reported at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The scopes used at UCLA, Cedars and Huntington were all made by Olympus Corp. That firm, along with other scope makers, has received warning letters from the FDA about safety and cleaning issues. Verrette said Huntington followed "FDA and manufacturer standards" in cleaning the scopes.

Olympus and the other manufacturers have come under fire from critics who say the ways the scopes are designed make them exceedingly difficult to thoroughly clean.

"This is a problem facing every hospital and we will be part of the solution," Verrette said. "We cannot deprive appropriate care to patients whose health issues can be relieved or addressed through the use of these scopes, but we are proceeding with an abundance of caution in our disinfecting and monitoring protocols to ensure patient safety."

The hospital has asked "two nationally renowned medical research facilities" to help with the investigation, she added.