How to Avoid Risk of Dangerous Infections from Colonoscopy

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A recent study showed that 71 per cent of the medical scopes used by doctors contained harmful bacteria on them even after they were considered clean and ready to use on patients.

Reusable scopes used to peer into the bile and pancreatic ducts during the colonoscopy procedure can increase the risk of contracting a deadly infection and has led to more than 35 deaths in United States in the past 5 years.

A recent study showed that 71 per cent of the medical scopes used by doctors contained harmful bacteria on them even after they were considered clean

Colonoscopy: A Potentially Life-Threatening Procedure

Two years ago, Patti Damare, a 53-year-old retired flight attendant from California, had gotten a colonoscopy procedure which left her feeling so weak that she was unable to get out of bed. At first, she thought that her symptoms had something to do with the anesthesia she had been given before the procedure, but two days later, her symptoms had gotten considerably worse, making her wonder if she had gotten a flu or some sort of an intestinal infection.

Damare recalls that she felt as if her body had been beaten with baseball bats. She eventually ended up in the emergency room where doctors diagnosed her with sepsis and an E. coli infection, which could have potentially killed her. She later discovered that she contracted the infection during her colonoscopy, and had she waited one more day to check into the ER, she would have died.

Reusable medical scopes used by doctors for colonoscopy can be a recipe for spreading deadly diseases if instruments are not thoroughly cleaned before being used on patients.

Reports show that duodenoscopes, which are used to inspect the bile and pancreatic ducts have caused over 35 deaths in American in the past five years. Three of the deadly incidents occurred at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center where complex scopes were not being clean thoroughly in between procedures.

Shocking Stats

With 15 million colonoscopies and 7 million endoscopies being performed in the U.S. every year, you’d think that the hospitals ought to clean their instruments before using them on patients. But two studies have highlighted the scary truth about how unhygienic medical scopes can be even when they are deemed clean.

A research published three months ago found that more than 70 per cent of the reusable medical scopes contained harmful bacterial strains even after they were considered ready to use. Another study by John Hopkins University determined that 1 in 1,000 patients who receive colonoscopy develop an infection within 7 days.

Susan Hutfless, senior author of the May study and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins, says she was “very surprised” by the findings, adding that patients must start grilling doctors about treatment options and the cleanliness of the scopes. You shouldn’t do it as I did at my first colonoscopy in January: I was on the gurney, waiting to be rolled into the operating room when I asked the doctor, “Your scopes are clean, right?”

Considering these alarming stats, it would make sense for you to ask your doctor questions before getting a colonoscopy. Experts suggest checking with your doctor to ensure that the scope is clean before starting the procedure. If more patients inquire, doctors will have more reasons to improve cleanliness.

Another study by John Hopkins University determined that 1 in 1,000 patients who receive colonoscopy develop an infection within 7 days of getting the procedure

Asking Questions

If you aren’t comfortable getting a scope procedure due to hygiene concerns, consider asking your doctor if there are any non-invasive alternatives that can be performed instead. If there aren’t, move on to the next stage of your investigation.

First and foremost, make sure that you’re getting the procedure done by a reputable physician with plenty of experience with scopes. If it is your first time, consider asking another experienced doctor to supervise the procedure.

It might be helpful to ask your doctor how many scope procedures they have performed and if any of the patients have contracting an infection from it. If the hospital doesn’t keep track of the infection rates, this is clearly a warning sign that you need to choose a better facility for the procedure.

If the answers so far have been satisfactory, enquire about the facility’s scope-cleaning process. Some of the questions you may want to ask are: are the scopes cleaned and reprocessed?  Are they hung in a clean, dry place? Are they checked for contamination after being sterilized?

The answers don’t have to be overly complicated and you don’t need to know every scientific detail of the cleaning process but knowing that the facility has the hygiene system down pat can give you some peace of mind before getting the procedure.

6 Comments

  1. Tanya Sanchez on

    I didn’t even realize a medical procedure like this is also prone to infections! I thought the medical team has protocols to make sure their medical apparatuses are clean! Yikes!

  2. This is why I don’t trust anyone putting things inside my body. They need to make sure it’s completely free of bacteria or any infections first before they operate their patients.

  3. Wow, you can never really be100% sure right? Given the fact that I’m scheduled to have a colonoscopy done soon, I’ll surely make a point of making a couple of inquiries before the procedure is performed. Kudos!

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