Duodenoscopes are small, tube-shaped medical devices used in a procedure called an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) to diagnose health problems in the digestive tract. Due to a problem with cleaning these scopes, they can become infected with bacteria after being used on one patient which can then be transferred to the next patient.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reported more than 350 patients at 41 healthcare facilities in the United States and around the world were exposed to or infected by contaminated gastrointestinal scopes between 2010 and 2015. However, a report from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Pensions and Labor found that between 2012 and 2015, 25 incidents of antibiotic-resistant infections that caused illness in at least 250 patients worldwide were caused by closed-channel duodenoscopes.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform obtained other documentation that shows at least 404 patient infections, 44 additional patient exposures to contaminated devices, and 319 Medical Device Reports (MDRs) on patient exposure and device contamination. In January 2016, Olympus issued a recall of its duodenoscope, and then the FDA reviewed and cleared the new design.
While the exact number of contaminated scopes and the number of infected patients is being estimated upward, it is important for patients to know about the risk of infection if they need to have a procedure that utilizes a duodenoscope, or if they have already had one and might be at risk for infection from the tainted device.
This is a bigger problem than most people know
A recent Reuters investigation into the dangers of drug-resistant bacterial infections tells us that numbers are rising all over the country, whether the scopes were involved in the initial procedure or not. However, the public is likely unaware of the issue: “Fifteen years after the U.S. government declared antibiotic-resistant infections to be a grave threat to public health, a Reuters investigation has found that infection-related deaths are going uncounted, hindering the nation’s ability to fight a scourge that exacts a significant human and financial toll” (emphasis ours).
The exact numbers are unknown, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 15,000 people die each year from c. diff alone, and another “23,000 people die each year from 17 types of antibiotic-resistant infections.” Because reporting standards are different from state to state (for example, Washington, D.C. requires reporting for c. diff and MRSA infections, whereas Arizona isn’t required by state law to report any HAIs) keeping track of the numbers of people who have become ill or died as a result of drug-resistant bacterial infections is a challenge. Without some kind of mandate, it seems we will never really know what is hurting us most.