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Lieu Calls for Congress to Investigate UCLA ‘Superbug’

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Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) has called on Congress to investigate the “superbug” outbreak at UCLA that claimed the lives of two patients, infected five more, and possibly exposed 179 others.

On Monday, Lieu wrote the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, saying that the outbreaks of superbugs that derive from contaminated medical scopes “have national security ramifications.”

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Lieu noted that in September Barack Obama issued an executive order that defined the battle against superbugs like carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, known as CRE, as a national security problem.

The patients affected at the Reagan Medical Center contracted the superbug through the use of duedenoscopes for ERCP, or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. Although the FDA issued a safety alert last week, it did acknowledge that even if users had disinfected the duedenoscopes according to the manufacturers’ guidelines, there was ho way to guarantee that every strand of bacteria could be eliminated.

Lieu protested that the FDA alert was no guarantor of eliminating the problem altogether. He said, “While federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are combating superbugs, the current recommended sterilization procedures would continue to result in superbug outbreaks and deaths.”

The duodenoscopes responsible for the infections contain an “elevator channel” that doctors use so they can bend the device in tight spaces and attach catheters or guide wires. That channel may allow a build-up of bacteria.

On Friday, a spokeswoman for the FDA said that if the duodenoscopes were banned, the risk to the public would be greater than the risk of contracting a superbug.

The FDA stated, “Of the more than 500,000 procedures performed in the U.S. each year using duodenoscopes, only a small fraction have been associated with transmission of antibiotic-resistant organisms.” The agency added that there is no other way to conduct ERCP; it said ERCP “is the least invasive way of draining fluids from pancreatic and biliary ducts blocked by cancer, gallstones and other conditions.”

Olympus Corp. of the Americas, which makes the most duodenoscopes, stated, “We are working with the FDA, relevant medical societies and our customers regarding these concerns.”


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