February 25, 2015
Superbug Kills Two At UCLA, Medical Devices To Blame

After a superbug kills two in a UCLA medical center, questions are being raised as to whether established procedures are adequate and being followed correctly by medical staff.

Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, has been identified as the bacteria putting patients at risk, the L.A. Times reports, and may be responsible for more deaths if the potential outbreak is not controlled.

Initially discovered in late January, presence of the drug-resistant bacteria was noted by a member of UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Center's staff and linked to two different endoscopes used at the center. Approximately three weeks after the initial discovery, UCLA and local public health authorities are reaching out to potentially infected patients.

At this time, at least 179 patients have been identified as at risk for infection with CRE because they were seen since October, 2014, and may have had contact with the endoscopes in question. Used to perform ERCP, a procedure designed to detect the presence of illness in the stomach and small intestines, the specialized equipment is difficult to clean.

ERCP, which already poses certain procedural risks, can be life-threatening if the endoscopic devices aren't properly sanitized. Although MRSA is usually the first bug that comes to mind when reports surface that a "superbug kills two," CRE is also a strong possibility. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CRE is both difficult to treat and control.

Individuals exposed to CRE may not be aware they are at risk, as the bacteria can colonize without infection taking place. Other than transmission via contaminated medical device, CRE can be spread by having contact with an infected or colonized person, putting family, friends, and others at risk of becoming infected. In some cases, CRE can be resistant to all available antibiotics, making medical intervention nearly impossible.

As Inquisitr reported in 2013, this incident isn't the first to make national headlines. CRE is also responsible for a variety of infections that can become life-threatening. As of 2012, an estimated 4 percent of hospital patients could be infected or colonized at any one time, and this number is believed to increase as the bacteria resists newer medications.

Regardless whether or not the superbug kills two or 200, a closer look at currently established sanitization procedures and compliance records is warranted. In 2012, the CDC released a CRE toolkit to aid healthcare facilities in controlling the bacteria. It is unclear whether UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Center was following established best practices.