Hawaii hospitals vigilant after California’s ‘superbug’ outbreak

A “superbug” outbreak at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is raising concerns at hospitals across the country, including here in Hawaii.

The antibiotic-resistant bacteria CRE was found on medical equipment used to treat nearly 200 patients.

The hospital says the devices were sterilized between each use, but that apparently wasn’t enough. Seven people were infected and two of them died.

Now, new procedures have been put into place at hospitals across the nation.

Here in Hawaii, Straub Clinic and Hospital is taking an extra step to make sure its medical devices are free from CRE.

The instrument that’s being scrutinized is an ERCP endoscope, which is a tube that has a camera at the tip and inserted inside your body.

Dr. Donald Saelinger, a gastroenterologist at Straub, explains the reason why UCLA Medical Center had its problems with the endoscope.

“The so-called CRE gets stuck in this lifter and they’re difficult to clean and that has been the problem,” he said.

The tip has a small moving part called a lifter and Saelinger says the hinge, if not cleaned properly, can store the CRE bacteria.

At Straub and other hospitals within the Hawaii Pacific Health organization, the endoscopes are cleaned twice.

The first cleaning is manual. “They use a brush and water and something called Cydex which it soaks in the whole thing soaks in Cydex,” explained Saelinger.

Saelinger says it’s important to get the Cydex, an antiseptic gets in that lifter, and then the endoscope is cleaned inside a washing machine of sorts using more antiseptic. Because of the superbug outbreak in California, they’re taking another step.

“We’re going to be culturing them to make sure there are no abnormal bacteria on them,” Saelinger said. “We take a specimen, we take a swab and clean it or we put it into some media to see if there’s some abnormal CRE bacteria to make sure they don’t grow.”

Saelinger points out that this particular endoscope linked to the “superbug” is different from other scopes used for more common procedures such as a colonoscopy or orthroscopic surgery. At Straub, it’s used a couple times a week specifically for patients that have pancreatic disease or gall stones.

Saelinger also says the patients who got sick with the “superbug” already had some type of ailment.

“It’s a hospital-type infection. In other words, it would be very difficult for someone like you and I to get sick from this bacteria,” he said.

KHON2 also checked with Queen’s Medical Center, which uses this type of endoscope.

The hospital told us that it has implemented a vigorous cleaning process and those measures will keep patients safe.

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