Contaminated Medical Scopes Caused Infections among Patients

Chicago residents who are experiencing a medical problem often present to a hospital, physician’s office, or surgical center, trusting that those who work in these facilities will be responsible with patient care and will focus on safety. Yet new data released by the Food and Drug Administration suggests that patient safety may have been lacking in numerous medical facilities across the nation that used certain types of gastrointestinal scopes to diagnose illnesses.

The FDA reviewed procedures known as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, commonly referred to as ERCP. It involves running a surgical scope down a patient’s esophagus for either diagnosis or treatment purposes of problems related to the digestive tract. The scopes themselves are called duodenoscopes and they are manufactured by several different companies and used in countless medical facilities across the nation.

The FDA’s research concluded that at many as 350 patients in at least 41 medical facilities were exposed to tainted duodenoscopes between January 1, 2010 and October 31, 2015.

At issue is the design of the scopes, the handling and cleaning processes used with the scopes, and the conduct of the medical professionals who operate the scopes or otherwise come into contact with then. The designs have been blamed for a number of these infections and has prompted at least one manufacturer, Olympus, to recall some of its scopes in an effort to reduce the risk of contamination. Others are modifying the cleaning guidelines issued for their scopes. And some hospitals have begun addressing the procedures and the staff policies surrounding their safety.

In many medical procedures, equipment will be used that is not original to a patient, meaning that the equipment has been used in similar procedures and on other patients previously and will continue to be used in that manner in the future. These pieces of equipment are required to be sanitized after each use to eliminate any germs, bacteria, or other contagious agents that may transfer from one patient onto the device and then later onto a subsequent patient.

But the FDA information makes it clear that these scopes are allowing infections from one patient to spread to others, and of these infections, some have been extremely hard to treat. Most of the time, people undergoing an ERCP procedure are ill and in need of medical treatment, but if these procedures are not done appropriately, their illness may exit their body via the scope and be passed to others.

Some potential victims have been informed that they were exposed to diseases after testing done on specific scopes revealed contamination. Yet others have no idea that the scope used for their procedure was something far less than pristine, potentially making them think that a serious medical condition was unrelated to its real cause – the use of a scope.

Depending on the nature of the injury and the harm that resulted, a hospital, a scope manufacture, or even individual physicians may be liable for medical malpractice for contamination caused during an ERCP but experts agree that the ideal situation will be to prevent these incidents from ever taking place. To ensure this happens, some are demanding the removal of all faulty scopes and others are seeking new laws to govern the use of similar medical devices in the United States. Until that time, it may be “patient beware” when it comes to certain procedures that may or may not be medically necessary.

Prior Blog Entry:

6,000 Deaths Blamed on Drowsy Driving Annually, Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, published April 18, 2016.


Tainted Scope Infections Far Exceed Earlier Estimates, by Chad Terhune, Kaiser Health News, published April 15, 2016.

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