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No new superbug cases since changes at Park Ridge hospital in wake of outbreak

After a 2013 outbreak of a deadly superbug linked to the use of a device used to treat digestive disorders, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge changed the way it sterilizes the instruments.

The result, hospital officials now say: Lutheran General has had no new cases since October 2013 of the bacteria known as CRE, a feared bug that resists even so-called “last-defense” antibiotics.

Lutheran General — which was among hospitals here, in Seattle and Pittsburgh hit by the superbug beginning in 2012 — began using a process called EtO gas sterilization in October 2013, according to hospital spokeswoman Evonne Woloshyn.

That’s to ensure that any bacteria that might remain after the manual cleaning of specialized endoscopes called duodenoscopes are destroyed. The gas is toxic, so using it requires special facilities and equipment.

But Lutheran General and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, also now using gas sterilization on the instruments, have reported seeing no infections since they began using the technique.

The northwest suburban hospital changed the sterilization procedure for the scopes used in endoscopic procedures after 38 patients treated there were found to be carrying CRE — carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae.

The patients had undergone the procedures of the pancreas or bile ducts between January and September 2013.

CRE typically causes urinary-tract infections. It can be deadly if patients have other health problems and the infection spreads to the bloodstream, killing up to 40 percent of those infected.

In each case, in the outbreaks here and in Seattle and Pittsburgh, health investigators linked the scopes to the transmission of the bacteria. Even after manual cleaning and “high-level disinfection,” bacteria sometimes remained because of the design of the devices, allowing the superbug to be passed on to other patients, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

USA Today, which exposed the problems in January, reported last week that many doctors who use the scopes — and many patients treated with them — don’t realize the risks, which means the problem could be more widespread. Neither the federal Food and Drug Administration — which regulates the scopes — nor the manufacturers of the devices have offered any guidance on what to do about the problem, even though steps like those taken at Lutheran General can be taken to cut those risks dramatically.

The instruments are inserted down the throats of a half-million patients a year nationwide to treat gallstones, cancers and other disorders of the digestive system.

Contributing: USA Today