Olympus duodenoscopes linked to suspected superbug outbreak at California hospital

Olympus TJF-Q180V Duodenoscope--Courtesy of Olympus Australia

Amid growing scrutiny over duodenoscopes' role in spreading potentially lethal bacteria, a California hospital is reporting a suspected superbug outbreak linked to the devices.

Pasadena, CA-based Huntington Memorial Hospital is looking into an association between patients who have pseudomonas bacteria and Olympus duodenoscopes used to treat them, The Los Angeles Times reports. The hospital discovered the problem in June after going through lab samples, and has already reported three patient infections to health officials. Huntington Memorial is "still investigating the potential link" and has enlisted the help of "two nationally renowned medical research facilities" to get to the root of the problem, Dr. Paula Verrette, senior vice president and chief medical officer for quality and physician services at the hospital, told the newspaper.

But the hospital is not elaborating on the three patient infections, declining to provide further details on the cases or the number of patients exposed to the scopes to the newspaper due to medical privacy laws.

The news comes a week after the FDA sent letters to Olympus, Pentax and Fujifilm, cracking down on the duodenoscope manufacturers for failing to report problems with devices as they surfaced. Olympus, the largest U.S. maker of the devices, did not report cases for three years of 16 patients contracting Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections after undergoing procedures with its scopes, according to the agency's letter.

But the FDA has stopped short of pulling the devices from the market, saying that duodenoscopes' benefits "continue to outweigh the risks" in critically ill patients, the agency said in a statement. Plus, the risk of getting an infection from an inadequately cleaned device is "relatively low" given the number in use, FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Dooren told the LA Times earlier this month.

Meanwhile, U.S. hospitals with reported superbug outbreaks are continuing to deal with the aftermath. UCLA Medical Center, one of the first sites with an outbreak, has adopted a sterilization technique to make sure duodenoscopes are cleaned properly. And Seattle's Virginia Mason Medical Center is quarantining disinfected scopes for two days before reusing them to screen for bacterial growth.

Huntington Memorial said it would take a similar approach to Virginia Mason Medical Center, and is not planning to suspend use of the scopes for now, Verrette told the LA Times.

"This is a problem facing every hospital," Verrette said, as quoted by the newspaper. "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."

- read the LA Times story