What do patients need to know about contaminated medical scopes?

In 2012, a Dutch hospital that had experienced a deadly superbug outbreak realized that the infection was being transmitted by duodenoscopes, a medical device that is inserted into a patient’s through to treat diseases of the digestive system. Japanese manufacturer Olympus Corp. introduced the TJF-Q180V duodenoscope in 2010, and they were in widespread use across the world at the time of the Dutch investigation. 

How did the scopes become contaminated?

The faulty scopes had a small rubber ring designed to keep bacteria out that could fail, trapping blood and tissue within the scope and potentially passing on infections from one patient to the next. The scopes were designed to be sanitized for reuse, but ordinary sanitation procedures could not fully eliminate infectious material in the faulty scopes. 

What are the dangers from contaminated scopes?

Whenever blood or tissue is passed from one patient to another in a hospital, there’s a risk that an infection could hitch a ride. The most dangerous infections are caused by “superbugs,” bacteria that have developed a resistance to multiple types of antibiotics. These drug-resistant strains of bacteria can be deadly because an infection that would otherwise be easily treatable may become difficult or impossible to eliminate

When one patient comes into the hospital with a superbug, or develops one while they are in the hospital, other patients can catch that bug by being exposed to that patient’s blood or tissue through a vector like a contaminated medical device or needle.

What did Olympus do about the problem?

Although an investigator hired by Olympus participated in the search for the Dutch superbug and wrote a report in 2012 warning the company about issues with the scopes, Olympus waited until 2013 to warn European medical providers about the safety issues with the scopes and did not issue any warnings to doctors in the United States.

Investigators hired by Olympus continued to visit hospitals with possible outbreaks, including Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center. Multiple safety warnings were given to European medical providers, but no notification was officially given to medical providers in the United States until the FDA issued a warning in February of 2015. 

Have there been outbreaks in Washington state?

In Seattle, investigators believe that at least 39 people were developed multidrug-resistant infections as a result of the contaminated scopes between 2012 and 2014. The outbreak happened at Virginia Mason Medical Center. 18 deaths were linked to the superbug outbreak at that hospital. State officials with the Department of Health released a complaint report stating that Virginia Mason failed to properly notify state health officials about the outbreak. 

What should patients who contracted superbugs do?

If you believe that you or a loved one was infected by a superbug after a procedure involving one of the faulty duodenoscopes, it may be time to speak with a personal injury attorney. Claims for superbug infections can be difficult for patients to navigate on their own, since an extensive investigation may be necessary to determine who was at fault for a contaminated scope.