11 deaths at Pasadena's Huntington Hospital may be linked to dirty scopes

June 2, 2016
In The News

Pasadena health officials said Wednesday that 16 patients were infected by dangerous bacteria from medical scopes at Huntington Hospital from January 2013 to August 2015, including 11 who have died.

It is not clear how many of those patients died from their infections. Health officials said that only one of the 11 death certificates listed the bacteria as the cause.

The hospital had previously said just three patients were infected in the outbreak that officials said was limited to the middle of 2015.

The infections were detailed in an investigation into the outbreak, which blamed both the design of the scope and also problems by the hospital in disinfecting them.

For example, the hospital had been using canned compressed air from Office Depot to dry the scopes, according to the investigation by the Pasadena Public Health Department released by the hospital Wednesday.

Dr. Paula Verrette, Huntington’s chief medical officer, said Wednesday that the hospital has now changed its practices based on the findings and recommendations of health officials.

“Patient safety remains our highest priority,” she said.

Huntington hospital officials had confirmed last August that three patients were sickened the previous month but declined to say more about their condition. They later told Olympus Corp., the scope’s manufacturer, of at least three deaths, according to the company’s report to federal regulators.

When the regulatory reports were discovered, hospital officials said that they believed patient privacy laws prevented them from telling the public that the unnamed patients had died.

In January, Olympus recalled one model of its duodenoscopes because of the possibility of infections. The reusable scope suspected of causing the Pasadena outbreak had a different, older design from the one that Olympus recalled.

Authorities have focused most of their attention on the duodenoscope used during two other Southern California outbreaks at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center and Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

FDA data provided during a yearlong inquiry by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) showed that as many as 350 patients at 41 medical facilities in the U.S. and worldwide were infected or exposed to tainted gastrointestinal scopes from Jan. 1, 2010, to Oct. 31, 2015.

The duodenoscope is a long snake-like tube with a tiny camera on the tip that is inserted into a patient’s throat and upper gastrointestinal tract. It is used to treat cancer, gallstones and other problems in the bile or pancreatic ducts.