Many experts have even called these bacteria, strengthened by genes that neutralize the effects of multiple antibiotics, a threat to the existence of human life itself.
As Germs Evolve, Fighting Infection Is Critical
Humanity has come a long way in the fight against germs and other infectious agents. Before 1675, the very existence of microorganisms was completely unknown, and it would take another two centuries for anyone to make the link between invisible microbes and disease.
Thanks to astounding advances in pharmaceutical science and the design of medical devices, we don’t just know that tiny bacteria and viruses can harm us, we can effectively prevent or treat the illnesses they cause.
But like the course of medicine, bacteria are constantly changing. They grow stronger, build defenses and eventually can’t be combated at all. When microbes become invincible to drug treatments, we have few options other than to stop them from spreading in the first place.
How Antibiotic-Resistant “Superbugs” Work
The first antibiotic agent was identified in 1907, and quickly heralded as a “miracle.” Twenty years later, Penicillin was discovered and would start fighting infections in hospitals by 1942.
With antibiotics now available worldwide, no one thinks much of a bacterial infection anymore. Throughout most of human history, though, infections were deathly serious.
But our ability to neutralize microscopic invaders, best represented by the power of antibiotics+, is a double-edged sword. Bacteria learn, evolving to develop a resistance to our antibiotics.
Once a specific “strain” of bacteria becomes resistant to multiple antibiotics, we call it a “superbug.”
The creation of superbugs is like a vicious circle: the more antibiotics we prescribe, the more opportunities we give bacteria to build up their defenses. As a result, we need more antibiotics to combat the infections, and bacteria become even more advanced.
In early 2013, the World Economic Forum called antibiotic-resistant bacteria “arguably the greatest risk […] to human health.” More recently, with the world’s eyes turned to West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, the Swiss-based non-profit upgraded superbugs to the next global pandemic threat.
Since all bacteria evolve, any type can become a superbug. But the FDA has warned patients and surgeons using duodenoscopes about a specific family of germs: Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).
What Is CRE?
Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae are a set of related germs that have become immune to the effects of carbapenem, an antibiotic used as a last line of defense against several infectious agents.
Carbapenem was designed to destroy particularly dangerous bacteria, ones that are already resistant to more commonly-prescribed antibiotics. This makes the birth of microbes resistant to carbapenem an unprecedented “threat to public health,” according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
Salmonella and Escherichia coli (E. coli) are both examples of Enterobacteriaceae, but the family of microbes is extremely large.
Two specific germs were highlighted in the FDA’s duodenoscope warnings, E. coli and Klebsiella, but any Enterobacteriaceae can evolve into a superbug. In fact, superbugs can pass the genes that make them resistant to other bacteria.
How Do Duodenoscopes Spread Superbugs?
Duodenoscopes are long, snake-like tubes used to look inside a patient’s gastrointestinal tract. Newer models are designed to be used in multiple patients, and since the GI tract is already a breeding ground for bacteria, strict cleaning procedures are absolutely critical.
Scopes don’t just look anymore; new models are outfitted with an “elevator” mechanism at the end. Small accessories, inserted in the tip, can be moved up or down to reach areas in the gut that used to be inaccessible.
But according to the US Food & Drug Administration, this “complex design” creates “challenges for cleaning and high-level disinfection.” In fact, the FDA has said that thoroughly cleaning all of a duodenoscope’s nooks and crannies “may not be possible.” If a superbug gets in, even rigorous disinfection can miss it, which means the deadly microbe may be spread to the next patient.
Do All CRE Exposed Patients Get Infected?
No, and this makes tracking the true effects of contaminated scopes very difficult.
In Los Angeles, a recent superbug outbreak left two patients dead. While seven infections were confirmed, hospital officials said that as many as 179 patients had been exposed to the CRE bacteria.
What Kind Of Infections Can CRE Bacteria Cause?
CRE superbugs can cause any number of infections, depending on which organs they’re able to reach.
Once harmful bacteria get inside the body, they begin to multiply, producing toxins and ultimately invading body tissues. The immune system kicks into gear, sending antibodies and white blood cells toward the bacteria, and initiating a host of other mechanisms designed to stop microbes from growing or kill them.
Most symptoms of infection are actually the result of your immune system’s response to the invasion, not a direct effect of bacteria. Fever, for example, occurs because many bacteria can be killed by high heats. So the body turns up its internal temperature, fighting infection but resulting in considerable discomfort.
Possible Signs Of A Superbug
According to MedicineNet, several types of infection are considered signs that antibiotic-resistant CRE may be present in a patient:
- Sepsis, or blood poisoning, and septic shock – once bacteria reach the blood, patients usually experience fever and accelerated breathing and heart rates.
Septic shock, more common in the elderly and other people with weakened immune systems, happens when the immune system’s response causes inflammation throughout the body. A drastic drop in blood pressure can result in death.
- Pneumonia – an infection of the lungs that inflames the organ’s air sacs. Patients often cough up phlegm, have trouble breathing and experience fever or chills.
- Urinary tract infection – once bacteria reach any part of the urinary system, kidneys, bladder or the urethra itself, they can cause a UTI. Common symptoms include fever, burning pain during urination and more frequent urination.
Untreated, all of these infections can be fatal. As we’ve seen, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are extremely difficult to treat, even with the latest in medical technology at our disposal.
The extreme danger of superbugs is universally acknowledged. With the risks of infection well-known, many industry critics have questioned how the duodenoscope, a medical device that spreads deadly bacteria, could remain in use.
Are Other Patients Eligible To File Lawsuits?
A number of individuals have already filed duodenoscope lawsuits. Tragically, family members who lost a loved one currently outnumber the survivors of a superbug infection.
By stepping forward, plaintiffs seek to hold duodenoscope manufacturers accountable for marketing a product they call “dangerous by design.”
More patients may be able to file superbug lawsuits. If you or a loved one battled a severe infection after undergoing a duodenoscope procedure, contact the attorneys at Banville Law today.
Our experienced trial lawyers are available 24 / 7. Call us now for a free legal consultation.
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