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Cleaning practices insufficient to prevent infection

A study published in the American Journal of Infection Control reveals that the current guidelines for disinfecting reusable medical scopes are not effective. The study tracked 20 endoscopes over the course of 7 months. By the end of the study, 12 of the 20 scopes suffered from microbial growth, despite having been cleaned according to current guidelines. In addition, all of the scopes had visible damage and 17 had to be returned to the manufacturer with serious defects. The study calls into question the safety procedures surrounding medical equipment in American hospitals.

Unpleasant findings

The cleaning guidelines may be insufficient because they are applied to brand new instruments. Over time, the scopes in the study suffered minor damage, including scratches and dents. Those imperfections make an excellent breeding ground for microbes. Photographs from the study show scopes with lenses clouded from accumulated biological material, brown stains, retained fluid and other debris. Instruments with these problems were being actively used on patients. 

A related problem

A device known as a duodenoscope has been tied to 35 deaths in recent years. The device is known to spread drug-resistant infections. The devices used in this study are used for different procedures than the duodenoscope. None of the 20 tested positive for the "superbugs" transported by the other device. Still, the question remains whether hospitals can be trusted to remove and replace medical equipment when it becomes a danger to patients. Unless the patients who suffer infections are able to identify the source and seek compensation for medical malpractice, hospitals may realize a cost savings by keeping damaged equipment in use too long.

Source: MedCity News, "Even with rigorous cleaning, bacteria linger in scopes," by Chad Terhune, January 2017 

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