Study: 71% of endoscopes still contain bacterial growth after reprocessing

Current reprocessing methods do not effectively sterilize flexible endoscopes, which may pose an infection risk to patients, suggest the findings of two new studies.

Here are four things to know.

1. In the first study, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, researchers assessed endoscope reprocessing, drying and storing practices at three multispecialty hospitals in the U.S. Researchers took samples of fully reprocessed endoscopes stored for at least 24 hours and sent them to FDA-registered microbiology laboratories.

2. Twenty-two percent of endoscopes had signs of organic contamination and 71 percent still contained microbial growth. Researchers also found retained moisture in 49 percent of endoscopes, showing no hospital's drying methods successfully eliminated residual fluid or waterborne pathogens from the devices. All three hospitals had damaged endoscopes in use, and two followed substandard reprocessing and drying practices.

"We were surprised to find that two hospitals accredited by The Joint Commission were skipping so many steps or doing them poorly, but we were even more surprised to find that reprocessing failed about half the time, even in a hospital that had very good practices," Cori Ofstead, lead researcher and president and CEO of the independent research organization Ofstead & Associates, told Reuters via email.

3. The reprocessing issues did not just apply to gastrointestinal endoscopes, according to Ms. Ofstead.

"This study identified problems with reprocessing effectiveness for all types of flexible endoscope, not just the complex gastrointestinal endoscopes with elevators," she told Reuters. "We believe the risk for patients may be highest for bronchoscopes and urology scopes."

4. Researchers in the Netherlands also assessed endoscope reprocessing in a second study published in the journal Gut. They found at least one reprocessed duodenoscope contaminated with detectable microbes in 39 percent of all Dutch health centers performing an endoscopic procedure to diagnose pancreas and liver diseases. About 15 percent of duodenoscopes tested positive for microorganisms with gastrointestinal or oral origins from previous patients.

"These results suggest that the present reprocessing and process control procedures are not adequate and safe," the researchers concluded.

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