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UCLA 'Superbug' Patient to Sue Maker of Suspect Endocopes: Lawyer

An 18-year-old student now hospitalized amid UCLA's "superbug" outbreak will sue the maker of the hard-to-clean endoscopes, his lawyer said.
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An 18-year-old student now hospitalized amid UCLA's "superbug" outbreak will sue the maker of the hard-to-clean medical instruments linked to six other infections and two deaths, the teen's lawyer said Friday.

Contaminated endoscopes, manufactured by Olympus Corp. of the Americas, were used in nearly 200 procedures at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center between October and January. Hospital officials are notifying 179 patients they may have been exposed as well.

"We are planning litigation against the manufacturer, Olympus," attorney Kevin Boyle told NBC News. "We're still investigating any potential fault by UCLA.

"It's just a terrifying thing. There were so many people exposed both at UCLA and potentially around the country. We hope we can help put a stop to this," Boyle said. "If this can happen at one of the world's leading hospitals, UCLA Ronald Reagan, it can happen anywhere."

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NBC News emailed Olympus, seeking comment. The company had not responded by Friday evening.

In a statement, Olympus said it emphasizes the importance of meticulous manual sterilization of its instruments. It says it is giving new, supplemental instructions to users of the endoscopes and is working with federal officials on the infection problem, the Associated Press reported.

UCLA Health does not comment on pending litigation, said UCLA spokeswoman Dale Triber Tate.

Hospital officials said privacy laws prohibit them from confirming that the teen is a patient at their facility and preclude them from discussing his condition. According to his lawyer, the student is not in critical condition but is "under under 24-7 care."

The 18-year-old, who had to be readmitted to the Los Angeles hospital in January, was initially infected last October with a potentially deadly bacteria called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, his lawyer said.

Staff at Ronald Reagan UCLA used one of the Olympus endoscopes to examine the teen's pancreas while he was suffering from pancreatitis, said Boyle, who declined to release the teen's name.

It's unclear, Boyle said, whether his client was the first UCLA patient to become infected with CRE — a "family of germs" highly resistant to antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a previous news release, the CDC said the drug-resistant bacteria can kill up to half of all patients who become infected with it in their bloodstreams. CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden has called CRE a "nightmare bacteria."

"He went home (after the scope procedure)," Boyle said. "Then, a few days later was just feeling horribly, and went back in. They started running tests. They figured out in, at least, November that he had CRE.

"He spent 83 days in the hospital, the majority of that in the ICU. He was released but unfortunately in January he had to go back in the hospital," Boyle added. "The CRE 'superbug,' as they're calling it, attacks the immune system. So he just was suffering from an extremely weakened immune system, putting him at risk for a whole host of things."

The teen's family lives in the Los Angeles area, the lawyer said. He described his client as a high school student.

"This bacteria is certainly life threatening. It's proven resistant from treatment by antibiotics. It's really unknown, the long term effects of having this bacteria," Boyle added.

The endoscopes in question are used on more than half a million people in the U.S. each year.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning Thursday about the type of endoscope linked to the UCLA outbreak. The FDA reported the devices, used to look inside the body, are especially hard to clean, troubling for an instrument that can be re-used, and cleaned, several times each day.

Also Thursday, the president of UCLA Health System apologized to patients infected by CRE and to those potentially exposed.

But health officials emphasized the outbreak poses no larger threat to the public. "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.

Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, deputy chief of the acute communicable disease control program at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, has said UCLA followed the recommended procedures for cleaning the scopes, and the health department found "no breaks and no breaches" in its practices.

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Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.