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Deadly 'Superbug' Outbreak In LA Leads To 2 Deaths And Up To 179 Infected

Up to 179 patients at UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Center may have been exposed to a drug-resistant bacteria that has so far infected seven people.

Two of these seven patients died following an outbreak of the superbug known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) that began late last month, according to the Los Angeles Times.

This bacteria causes infections of the bladder or lungs and, once it spreads to the bloodstream, is estimated to kill 40 to 50 percent of patients.

The patients are thought to have become infected through two duodenoscopes, which is a type of endoscope that gets snaked down the throat to detect cancer, gallstones and other digestive conditions, according to the LA Times.

Duodenoscopes, which are not used for routine endoscopies or colonoscopies, are used on around 500,000 patients a year.

They are hard to disinfect because of their design, particularly the part that bends so the instrument can fit into tight spaces or connect to catheters.

The potentially exposed patients were treated between October 2014 and January 2015.

They have been notified of the outbreak and sent home-testing kits with rectal swabs should they prefer not to get tested at the hospital.

UCLA said it has since changed the way it disinfects the equipment.

UCLA spokeswoman Dale Tate said,

The two scopes involved with the infection were immediately removed and UCLA is now utilizing a decontamination process that goes above and beyond the manufacturer and national standards.

CRE infections have occurred in every US state aside from Idaho, Alaska and Maine, The New York Times reports.

Seattle's Virginia Mason Medical Center recently revealed 32 patients were infected by a bacteria similar to CRE, which found its way onto a series of endoscopes between 2012 and 2014.

Eleven of those 32 patients died, but many of them were already suffering from critical illnesses.

Virginia Mason now lets its endoscopes sit for 48 hours after they have been cleaned to see if any bacteria grows on them before they are used again.

A contaminated endoscope also infected several dozen patients with CRE at an Illinois hospital in 2013, according to The New York Times, prompting the hospital to take on new methods of sterilization.

Officials from the FDA and CDC are working to make sure these instruments can still be regularly used as they are credited with saving many lives due to early detection.

Citations: Superbug linked to 2 deaths at UCLA hospital (The Los Angeles Times), UCLA Says More Than 100 May Have Encountered Superbug (The New York Times)