The UCLA Health System has notified nearly 180 patients that they may have been infected by a “superbug” bacteria during complex endoscopic procedures that took place between October 2014 and January 2015. The patients are being offered free home testing kits that would be analyzed at UCLA.
UCLA sterilized the scopes according to the standards stipulated by the manufacturer. However, an internal investigation determined that carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) bacteria may have been transmitted during a procedure that uses this specialized scope to diagnose and treat pancreaticobiliary diseases and may have been a contributing factor in the death of two patients. A total of seven patients were infected.
Similar CRE exposures using the same type of scope recently have been reported in other hospitals in the United States. The two scopes involved with the infection were immediately removed and UCLA is now utilizing a decontamination process that goes above and beyond manufacturer and national standards. Both the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and the California Department of Public Health were notified as soon as the bacteria were detected.
Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, are a family of germs that are difficult to treat because they have high levels of resistance to antibiotics. Klebsiella species and Escherichia coli (E. coli) are examples of Enterobacteriaceae, a normal part of the human gut bacteria, that can become carbapenem-resistant.
Healthy people usually do not get CRE infections – they usually happen to patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare settings. Patients whose care requires devices like ventilators (breathing machines), urinary (bladder) catheters, or intravenous (vein) catheters, and patients who are taking long courses of certain antibiotics are most at risk for CRE infections.
Some CRE bacteria have become resistant to most available antibiotics. Infections with these germs are very difficult to treat, and can be deadly—one report cites they can contribute to death in up to 50% of patients who become infected.