Contaminated surgical instruments: Are you at risk?

Every day, people are exposed to unnecessary infection risks through the use of surgical tools which are not clean.

When people in Santa Fe Springs go into a hospital for a routine procedure or for surgery, the last thing they expect is to get sick from contaminated instruments. Hospitals and other medical facilities have strict policies and guidelines on how medical tools should be cleaned to protect patients from harmful bacteria. However, sometimes, these policies and guidelines are not always followed or they may be incorrect.

Superbug exposure

Recently, ABC News reported that two patients' deaths at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center may have been linked to a superbug called Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae. The bug, which is resistant to normal antibiotics like amoxicillin and penicillin, was apparently present on an endoscope at the medical facility. It was further announced by the facility that 179 people in all have been exposed to the superbug.

A further investigation into the breakout of the superbug, revealed that the infection stemmed from two endoscopes, and that the manufacturer made changes to the design. The changes made were not clear but it is known that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did not approve the changes, as is required. Furthermore, it was revealed that the scopes had been linked to cases of the superbug occurring throughout the country. Officials could not confirm whether the contamination was because of the design changes or poor maintenance.

Contamination after sterilization

A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information examined surgical packaging, instruments and sets after they were put through a sterilization process and used on another patient. The researchers found bacteria on instruments and the inner packaging of those instruments, such as Bacillus spp. and coagulase-negative staphylococci.

As a result of the findings, additional surgical treatment was needed for 11 out of 20 patients who had developed a post-surgical infection at the site where the operation was performed. The researchers found errors made by theatre staff who failed to check the surgical sets after they were put through the sterilization. It was also discovered that components of the sterilization equipment had not been properly maintained at the plant where the sterilization was done.

A widespread problem

Many people may think that such events are rare, but The Center for Public Integrity points out that hospitals across the country are discovering that their surgical tools are far from clean. In some cases, staff had failed to follow manufacturer cleaning instructions but in others, contamination including bone, rust, skin tissue, blood and bacteria were discovered on the instruments after they were properly cleaned and then examined with a small video camera.

Part of the problem seems to come from the advancement of medical instrument technology which now creates complex tools with movable parts that are small, and that are made out of plastics, polymers and tungsten. These materials are much harder to clean than stainless steel and glass, and therefore, sterilization is not enough to remove contaminants. Another factor may be the high volume of surgical tools which are sterilized each day and the environment in which they are cleaned.

Until hospitals and manufacturers figure out a solution that fixes these issues, patients in Santa Fe Springs and elsewhere will continue to find themselves exposed to harmful superbugs and other contaminants. Patients who are victims of these medical issues may find it helpful to speak with a personal injury attorney.