Superbug Outbreak Highlights Hospital Infection Concerns Across U.S.

An outbreak of a potentially deadly bacterial infection at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center that was linked to medical endoscopes has highlighted concerns about hospital-acquired infections across the U.S., Kaiser Health News/PBS Newshour’s “The Rundown” reports (Rau, “The Rundown,” Kaiser Health News/PBS Newshour, 2/20).


Last week, Ronald Reagan Medical Center began notifying 179 patients who were treated at the hospital between October 2014 and January and may have been exposed to a drug-resistant superbug known as CRE from contaminated medical endoscopes.
UCLA said that seven patients had been infected and that two patient deaths had been linked to the bacteria.
Following the announcement of the superbug, FDA issued a warning about medical endoscopes, stating that the device’s design might make it difficult to “clean, disinfect and sterilize reusable devices” (California Healthline, 2/20).

Details of Concerns

Experts say that the superbug outbreak highlights failings in the federal government’s efforts to stem lethal hospital infection rates, including:

  • Gaps in monitoring the prevalence of bacteria inside and outside of hospitals; and
  • Overuse of antibiotics.

California is one of 10 states that monitor the prevalence of antibiotic-resistance bacteria, but the federal government has not implemented a nationwide system for such monitoring (“The Rundown,” Kaiser Health News/PBS Newshour, 2/20).
Soeren Mattke, a senior scientist and managing director at RAND Corporation, said hospitals are seeking ways to improve their safety. For example, UCLA has switched to a gas sterilization process after the outbreak (Terhune, Los Angeles Times, 2/20).

FDA Reviewing Safety of Endoscopes

Despite the outbreak at UCLA, FDA says it is not safe for hospitals to stop using endoscopes because there are no viable alternative devices.
In a statement, FDA said it is reviewing the design and performance of medical endoscopes, but the agency said it “is concerned by the risk to public health that would be created by removing the scopes from the market.”
FDA added that “only a small fraction” of the more than 500,000 annual procedures in the U.S. using the devices “have been associated with transmission of antibiotic-resistant organisms” (Willman, Los Angeles Times, 2/20).

Outbreak Not a Public Health Threat, Officials Say

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County health officials say the outbreak of CRE it is “not a threat to public health,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
According to the Times, residents have been calling their doctors and conducting online research to learn more about the infection.
Ronald Reagan Medical Center officials last week apologized for “some of the anxiety” the outbreak has caused, noting that no new infections have been discovered since the new sterilization method was implemented (Mai-Duc/Terhune, Los Angeles Times, 2/20).

Outbreak Could Spur Legal Action

In related news, experts say any lawsuits that follow the superbug outbreak likely will pit the medical center against the endoscope’s manufacturer, Olympus Corporation of the Americas, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.
However, Lawrence Muscarella, a health care and sterilization expert, said it would be surprising to see lawsuits. He said, “Proving causation is impossible,” adding, “You can’t prove you didn’t have that organism when you came into the hospital”