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How clean are a hospital’s surgical instruments?

A recent outbreak of a superbug linked to contaminated scopes brings attention to the problem of cleaning surgical devices.

Operating rooms across the country, including those in Missouri, are presented to the public as safe environments. People picture surgeons and staff scrubbing their hands and arms, being draped in clean surgical gowns and then walking into a pristine room where surgical instruments are laid out in a row, shining brightly in the overhead light.

However, this appearance can be misleading. Our staff at Norton & Norfleet understands all too well that there are many hidden risks within the walls of an operating room and one problem recently attracting attention is dirty instruments.

A contaminated scope

ABC News reports that a design change made to a duodenoscope by Olympus Corporation of the Americas may have played a role in the contamination of them. These scopes are used to examine a patient's liver, intestine and pancreas, and are put down the person's throat. Two of these scopes at a California hospital were found with bacteria that causes a super bug that is resistant to drug treatment. In all, seven people at that hospital contracted the super bug after going through a procedure involving the contaminated scopes and two of those patients later died.

The Food and Drug Administration has revealed that infections from duodenoscopes have occurred elsewhere. In fact, 135 patients may have been exposed to bacteria during the period of January 2012 to December of last year. The FDA issued a warning that not all bacteria may be removed through the cleaning process of the scopes. Fierce Healthcare states that along with that warning the FDA has issued, the agency stated that manufacturers' tests of their devices' cleaning protocols may also be to blame.

Dirty devices

The surgeries of today are far more advanced than those of a hundred years ago. Yet, according to Public Integrity, the tools used in these surgeries have become more complex. While they may look simple, many of these devices have long channels, moving parts, are smaller in design and have tiny holes. Porous materials such as plastic and tungsten are also often used.

This makes it harder to clean these devices. Suction cups are a common tool used to remove bodily fluids from a surgical site. However, when one team looked at 350 of these items with a tiny camera used for filming surgeries, they discovered these cups were far from clean, even after they ran the cups through the manufacturer's recommended cleaning procedure. The problem appeared to be a flaw in the cups' design.

It is uncertain how pervasive the issue of dirty devices is in hospitals throughout Missouri and the rest of the nation. If people feel that they have been the victim of hospital negligence, they may find it helpful to meet with an experienced injury lawyer.

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