California congressman wants hearing on superbug outbreak

AP News
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Posted: Feb 23, 2015 7:31 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Congress should launch an investigation into what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is doing to prevent additional superbug infections after a deadly outbreak at a Los Angeles hospital linked to tainted medical scopes, a lawmaker said Monday.

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., sent a letter asking the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to hold a hearing on the issue, which he said "poses both health and national security risks." The committee oversees the FDA.

Lieu noted that the Obama administration has made fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria a national security priority.

The FDA issued an alert last week after seven patients at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center became infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, during endoscopic procedures. Two died.

The hospital notified 179 patients who may have been exposed between October and January and offered a free home test kit. Results will take several weeks.

Similar outbreaks have occurred in hospitals in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Washington in recent years.

Between January 2013 and December 2014, the FDA received 75 reports involving 135 patients in the U.S. who may have been infected by contaminated scopes. The FDA has acknowledged that the complex design of the devices known as duodenoscopes can make them hard to clean. The agency has said taking the scopes off the market "would prevent hundreds of thousands of patients from access to this beneficial and often life-saving procedure."

About 500,000 people across the country each year undergo procedures involving duodenoscopes, which are threaded down the throat to examine organs such as the liver and pancreas.

UCLA has said it cleaned the scopes to manufacturer's standards. After the outbreak, the hospital returned two contaminated scopes to the maker and adopted a more stringent disinfection process that involves putting the devices in a machine and then sending it off campus for a second cleaning.

On Monday, the Carolinas HealthCare System said it has increased efforts to prevent the spread of CRE, which killed two patients in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area in recent months. CRE infections typically strike people in hospitals and other health care settings and are usually not a threat to healthy people.