It’s been more than a year since the horrifying news started pouring out of UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center.
Seven patients were infected with a deadly superbug from contaminated endoscopes – and three of them even died.
We were promised that this was the kind of tragedy that nobody could have seen coming. We were even told that our government had the problem under control, and there was nothing to worry about.
But now two Congressional investigations have proven that we were lied to all along.
Because the problem with dirty – and potentially deadly – scopes is far worse than we were ever told. And if you or someone you love is scheduled for surgery, you could still be at risk.
Aaron Young was one of the lucky ones. Just 19, he almost died from a superbug infection caused by a defective endoscope made by Olympus Corp.
These long, flexible tubes with a light and camera are put down your throat, and used in a variety of procedures such as tests involving the gall bladder, pancreas and liver.
As stories like Aaron’s started popping up – and we learned about people who were sickened and killed by dirty scopes – even Congress decided to finally do something and investigate.
Actually, they launched two investigations – and what they found was a classic mainstream and government cover-up that was practically criminal.
The first investigation, which wrapped up early this year, discovered that both Olympus and the FDA knew full well that the devices were potentially deadly.
And I’m sure you can guess what they did about it – absolutely nothing.
In its 301-page report, the Senate found that Olympus and two other scope manufacturers “failed at every level” to protect patients.
Olympus was reportedly fully aware of a design flaw with its scopes that could lead to deadly infections, and never warned any hospitals in the U.S.
But even worse, hospitals hadn’t bothered to report cases of infections involving the scopes, something required by law.
It was a perfect storm of negligence that left people dead. I mean, how are people not going to prison for this?
Medical device manufacturers and our government didn’t just hide the truth about these contaminated scopes – they also bent over backwards to make sure we never knew just how big the problem had become.
A second Congressional report, just released, found the number of patients put at risk to be at least 350 at over 41 hospitals across America. That’s far worse than we were ever told.
But if you’re interested in finding out if your hospital exposed patients to contaminated scopes, well, good luck with that.
The FDA says that federal law prohibits it from releasing the names of the medical facilities where patients were infected. Can you believe it?
And, it gets even worse, if that’s possible.
A California congressman, Ted Lieu, who led the just-released investigation, says that he’s “absolutely certain there are lots more infections out there” that haven’t been reported.
You see, even if someone becomes sick after a procedure with one of these scopes, there are no requirements that hospitals test patients to find out if the cause is one of those antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
So despite all the news stories and investigations, this whole situation is still about as clear as mud.
Which brings us back to the $64,000 question: If you’re scheduled for one of these scope tests, can you trust your hospital or clinic that these devices are being cleaned thoroughly enough?
And unfortunately that answer is – maybe.
Some medical facilities are doing better by testing scopes for contamination and even putting them in quarantine for two days after being used to further check for bacteria.
But the best piece of advice I found came from one of the experts in the field of device contamination. When he needed an endoscope procedure done, he located a facility that sterilizes its scopes with “peracetic acid” between patients.
So despite how awkward it may be, you still have to ask your hospital or clinic what procedure they use for cleaning their scopes.
Because it’s obvious that having blind faith that it’s being done right is no longer good enough – or safe enough.
“Dirty scope infections more than estimated” Matthew Perrone, The Associated Press, April 15, 2016, sltrib.com