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Intricate design, unsafe cleaning practices to blame for high rate of infected medical scopes

Posted Monday, April 30, 2018 by Tyler Goldberg-Hoss

In a recent paper published in the American Journal of Infection Control, 71% of reusable medical scopes tested at three major hospitals carried bacteria.

Scopes are medical devices used to look deep into areas of the body, including the colon, lung, and esophagus. Because such a high percentage of these scopes carry bacteria, considerable numbers of patients are harmed: 35 deaths since 2013.

These bacteria, including superbugs such as CRE and MRSA, are responsible for even more harm: around 2 millions Americans are made sick by such bugs, and overall 23,000 die.

Part of the problem is the design, and also the cleaning procedures of hospital staff often lacked. This includes using the same gloves when disinfecting the scopes multiple times, scopes stored in unsanitary conditions, and generally skipping steps in the cleaning process due to the need to rush between procedures.

Higher standards have been proposed to increase patient safety. This includes sterilizing all scopes using gas or chemicals, and concurrently redesigning scopes to withstand the stress of repeated sterilizations (or creating single use scopes).

Scopes – in all their forms – are terrific inventions that have saved countless lives and solved countless medical problems. It appears that, with a little tweaking, they can continue to be promoters of patient safety.

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