Medical devices and tools must be sterile, or else expose patients to serious infection. Hospitals and medical clinics are often full of germs, because those facilities are where sick people go. If doctors, nurses and device manufacturers are not sufficiently careful, disease can spread from patient to patient.
Two people who died at a California hospital recently may have been infected with the CRE “superbug” by a contaminated endoscope. Doctors use endoscopes to look inside their patients’ body cavity or organ, using a light attached to the device’s end.
Officials at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center say the patients both were examined with an endoscope that had been sterilized to the manufacturer’s instructions. However, the devices were contaminated with the CRE bacteria, a class of bacteria that is resistant even to advanced antibiotics. The fatality rate for CRE is 40 percent for vulnerable patients, according to one physician.
We do not know yet how this terrible event occurred, and whether other patients at the hospital are still at risk of infection. UCLA is sending home testing kits to other patients believed to be exposed to CRE, so the number of infections could increase.
Part of the duty of care that medical professionals owe their patients is to take reasonable steps to prevent the spread of infection. Similarly, a negligently designed or manufactured medical device can put patients at unreasonable risk of harm.
One way that victims of medical malpractice and defective products can stand up for their rights is to seek financial compensation in court.