August 12, 2015 — A new study suggests that endoscopes can remain contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, even after hospitals meticulously follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning.
The study was published this month by the American Journal of Infection Control. Researchers observed cleaning and tested endoscopes for contamination at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where 30,000 endoscopic procedures are performed annually.
Microorganisms survived on 9% of colonoscopes and gastroscopes after they were manually scrubbed, washed in disinfectant fluid, and dried. The authors of the study warned that “current standards and practices may not be sufficient for detecting and removing all residual contamination.”
Researchers warned that the scopes can resist disinfection if they develop a biofilm, which is a sticky matrix of bacteria and yeast on the inside of the scope. The cleaning process is also labor-intensive and prone to human error.
For years, experts have been warning that medical scopes frequently remain contaminated between uses. Unlike a surgeon’s scalpel, endoscopes are hard to sterilize because they contain tiny crevices, complex internal mechanisms, and are damaged by heat.
Until now, much of the concern has focused on duodenoscopes. Earlier this year, the FDA warned about inadequate cleaning instructions for the scopes. Those warnings only came after several deadly outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant “superbug” infections were transmitted on the scopes.