'Superbug' may have caused two deaths at UCLA hospital

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An endoscope was contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and it may have contributed to the deaths of two people at a UCLA hospital.

Even as California is facing a measles outbreak, there's another health concern emerging in the state. A "superbug" may have contributed to the deaths of two people at a UCLA hospital and the threat isn't over.

UCLA says the patients were examined with an endoscope that had been sterilized to manufacturer's instructions. However, two devices were contaminated with the CRE bacteria.

A Infectious disease physician at Regional Medical Center says it could happen anywhere. CRE is a class of bacteria resistant to advanced antibiotics. Dr. Anuj Malik says there have been outbreaks across the country since 2001.

"The mortality associated with these infections can range almost as high as 40 percent," Malik says.

That mortality rate applies to people who are already vulnerable. UCLA says 179 patients were exposed during endoscopic procedures at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center between October and January. Seven are infected.

An endoscope is a device used to look inside a body cavity or organ with a light attached at the end.

"The device can have these bacteria on it, and that's why if it's not cleaned out or "cleaned out appropriately" then it can spread from one person to another," Malik says.

A spokesperson for UCLA says the scopes in question have been removed and decontamination procedures have been upgraded. Malik believes the manufacturer will also be re-evaluating its policies. But in the larger picture, the threat remains.

"Not panic, but have a judicious concern about the situation we're facing and we're going to continue to face this. Bacteria are not going away. They're not going to stop evolving," Malik says.

UCLA is sending home testing kits to patients who were exposed.
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