May 28, 2015 — Virginia Mason Medical Center has taken the unusual step of switching from a defendant into a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the widow of a man who died from an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” infection on a dirty medical scope made by Olympus Corp., the Seattle Times reports.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this year on behalf of Richard Bigler, a 57 year-old man who had pancreatic cancer. He underwent a medical procedure at Virginia Mason in which an Olympus duodenoscope was used to open up a blocked duct.
What he thought would be a routine, low-risk procedure ended up causing his death eight days later, after the scope transmitted an antibiotic-resistant E. coli infection. He was one of 40 patients who were exposed to the “superbug,” including 18 who died.
The lawsuit originally blamed Virginia Mason for failing to properly clean the scope. However, when the FDA issued a Safety Communication to warn that the scopes were extremely difficult to sterilize, blame quickly fell on Olympus.
Virginia Mason says infections were transmitted on the scope even after hospital employees followed the manufacturer’s protocol for decontamination. They say Olympus knew that the protocol was inadequate and had resulted in disease-transmission, but failed to inform the hospital.
No further “superbug” infections have been transmitted on the scopes since Virginia Mason implemented a far more rigorous cleaning protocol. Each scope is now cleaned, cultured, and quarantined for at least 48 hours. Only after the scope tests negative for bacterial contamination it is re-used on other patients