Los Angeles hospital alert after 'superbug' outbreak

The Ronald Reagan UCLA Health System released a statement late on Wednesday saying at least seven of its patients have been infected with carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (above), apparently transmitted to them in the hospital via tainted surg
The Ronald Reagan UCLA Health System released a statement late on Wednesday saying at least seven of its patients have been infected with carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (above), apparently transmitted to them in the hospital via tainted surgical tools. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A Los Angeles hospital said Thursday it may have unwittingly infected nearly 180 people with a treatment-resistant “superbug” linked to the deaths of two of its patients.

The Ronald Reagan UCLA Health System said at least seven of its patients have been infected with carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae bacteria (CRE), apparently transmitted to them in the hospital via tainted surgical tools.

The bacteria “may have been ... a contributing factor in the death of two patients,” it said in a statement.

Initially it said it was trying to notify over 100 patients possibly at risk, but in an update on Thursday it put the figure at 179.

Hospital officials said they are making home testing kits available to the at-risk patients to determine if they have been infected with the superbug.

In a statement, the hospital said an internal investigation found that the bacteria appear to have been transmitted via medical implements used in an endoscopic procedure to diagnose and treat diseases of the pancreas and bile duct.

The procedures – performed between October 2014 and January of this year – apparently transmitted the bacteria to the patients even though UCLA “sterilised the scopes according to the standards stipulated by the manufacturer,” the hospital statement said.

“The two scopes involved with the infection were immediately removed and UCLA is now utilising a decontamination process that goes above and beyond the manufacturer and national standards,” it said.

The hospital added: “Both the Los Angeles County Department of Health and the California Department of Public Health were notified as soon as the bacteria were detected.”

The CRE bacterium is resistant to treatment by most common antibiotics, and is particularly dangerous in a hospital setting, where patients might have compromised immune systems or might be recovering from surgery.