An outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria at UCLA caused the death of several patients this past year. The source of the “superbug” was traced back to the use of contaminated endoscopes. Officials at UCLA stated that the endoscopes, by their design, are difficult to sanitize and that they followed the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions precisely.
The superbug is called CRE, is a family of germs that live in the human gastrointestinal tract and have evolved to be resistant to antibiotics. CRE does not always cause an infection in people in fact if someone has a healthy stomach the infection may not occur. CRE becomes dangerous—and potentially fatal—when it reaches the bloodstream or the bladder. It can even cause infection if it is exposed to an open wound on the skin. For patients with other conditions such as cancer, the risk of death increases. Unfortunately, this is precisely the kind of underlying condition patients receiving the endoscopies had at the time the device was used.
Officials at UCLA have stated that the endoscopes are produced by different manufacturers and are all equally difficult to sanitize. Treating CRE is difficult due to its resistance to antibiotics and experts in infectious diseases state that drug companies have stopped producing new antibiotics because there isn’t enough money in the business. The best option, then, is to prevent the spread of CRE in the first place.
Medford based Langford IC Systems has developed a possible solution to the endoscope threat. The company has been working with Proven Process Medical Devices for more than a decade to create a new medical device cleaning system. The small nooks and crannies of a small device, like an endoscope, pose a serious challenge when trying to assure the removal of microscopic bacteria. Infections can fester and grow despite stringent sanitization processes.
“The machine that we developed would clean, high level disinfect and rinse …off the instrument. It’s way ahead of its time,” said Terry Langford, founder and owner of Langford IC Systems.
Although the device has been approved by the FDA since 2011, there was not much of a market for it until now. With the outbreak of the superbug in California, hospitals have begun to reconsider the way their devices are cleaned. The small crevices and flexible nature of the endoscope make it hard to sterilize manually. The Langford IC cleaning unit is essentially a dishwasher for medical equipment. It pulses water several hundred times a second to flush out bacteria.
So far, a hospital in Missouri has installed the device. With third party proof of concept and an easy install method, the company expects many more requests as the year progresses.