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UCLA Superbug Outbreak Called No Threat to Public

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The president of UCLA Health System on Thursday apologized to patients infected by drug-resistant bacteria during endoscopic procedures and to and more than 170 others who may have been exposed, while a health official said the outbreak poses no large-scale threat to the public. Two patients' deaths have been linked to the so-called superbug.

"Our hearts go out to the families of the two patients that passed away, the other patients that are infected, to those that have the anxiety of waiting for the test results," UCLA Health System President Dr. David Feinberg told reporters.

The outbreak of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, is not a danger to the public, said Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, deputy chief of the acute communicable disease control program at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

"This outbreak is not a threat to public health," he said. He added that UCLA followed the recommended procedures for cleaning the scopes, and the health department found "no breaks and no breaches" in its practices.

Seven patients were infected and 179 others were notified they may have been exposed to CRE that contaminated two endoscopes used in procedures at the Ronald Reagan Medical Center from mid-December to Jan. 28, the hospital system said.

The first patient was infected in mid-December, and UCLA said it initially didn’t find any problem with its sterilization practices but continued perform procedures as it investigated.

Molecular testing found that there were eight linked CRE cases, including the patient who first had the bacteria, and that two endoscopes were contaminated, said Dr. Zachary Rubin, associate clinical professor of infectious diseases and medical director of clinical epidemiology and infection prevention at the medical center.

The hospital pulled all the devices and stopped the procedures once contamination was found, he said. UCLA said it now uses a gas sterilization method and has increased its standards.

"I think the fact that we’ve identified this this specific CRE drug-resistant infection in these scopes — in a couple of different hospitals now — suggest that the routine process we were using were not quite adequate," he said.

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