An accidental discovery by medical researchers has identified a common practice by gastroenterologists that could leave patients open to infections from contaminated medical scopes.
The research team was studying cleaning techniques for colonoscopes and gastroscopes when they noticed a cloudy, white, viscous fluid inside several scopes that had been disinfected and prepared for use on other patients. The scopes are a flexible fiber-optic instruments inserted into the body in order to examine the colon and the interior of the stomach. The scopes are used to diagnose gastrointestinal problems and are typically cleaned and reused.
Researchers determined the mystery fluid inside the scopes contained simethicone, the primary ingredient in over-the-counter gas relief drops designed for infants. Doctors throughout the United States regularly put the drops into the scopes during colonoscopies and other procedures to reduce bubbles inside the body that can affect visibility. Simethicone drops also contain silicone, which does not dissolve in water, making it difficult to remove with detergents and disinfectants. The silicone could provide an impenetrable coating to trap blood, tissue and other organic material inside scopes.
Even though simethicone is inert, or chemically inactive, it contains sugars and thickeners that can contribute to bacterial growth and biofilm development. Biofilm is a slimy substance that protects bacteria from being washed away.
Also troubling, even though all of the scopes should have been dried in preparation for their next use, 19 of the 20 scopes inspected by the researchers had some kind of residual fluid inside.
Though researchers have yet to link a specific report of an infection to residual simethicone in the scopes, they suggest the practice of using simethicone drops heightens the risk of infection for patients.
Researchers recommended hospitals limit the use of simethicone drops in the scopes until additional research can be done. However, one doctor who co-authored the research study said discontinuing use of the drops would hinder a doctor's ability to be meticulous in their treatment of patients.
The scopes studied were ones of basic design and theoretically easier to disinfect than other scopes with more complex designs, such as a duodenoscope. In the U.S., duodenoscopes are used in more than 500,000 procedures each year, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These scopes are being investigated in a series of outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. In a five-year-period, up to 350 patients were exposed to contaminated scopes.
If you or a loved one has contracted an infection as a result of a medical treatment, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.