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Legal loopholes, contamination lead to deadly infections

Medical errors can and do happen due to the nature and complexity of treating illnesses and performing various procedures. Some of these errors are complete accidents; others, however, are the result of negligence.

You may be thinking that medical mistakes are typically made by the doctors and nurses who are actually treating patients, and in many situations this can be the case. However, there are other parties who make decisions that put a patient's life in danger. For example, patients across Georgia could be at risk of suffering a life-threatening infection due to a manufacturing problem with a particular medical device.

The device is called a duodenoscope and it is used in procedures to see inside a person's digestive tract. The flexible tube is used in hundreds of thousands of procedures every year.

However, as many as 350 people have reportedly developed fatal infections from certain models of scopes due to superbugs that could not be treated with antibiotics. The bacteria are linked to contaminated duodenoscopes.

The issue evidently stems from a redesign of the scopes that occurred in 2010 that left tiny cracks in the device's tip in which tissue and blood can get stuck. Previously-approved cleaning methods are apparently not effective in sterilizing the scope, which means bacteria can spread from patient to patient.

According to reports, the problem is the result of legislative loopholes that allow companies to change the design of a device or cleaning instructions without notifying federal agencies. Manufacturers can also issue safety warnings in other countries without having to do the same in the U.S.

These loopholes have left patients across the country at risk of being infected by a non-sterile medical device.

It will certainly be interesting to see if proposed legislation aimed at closing these loopholes will be approved. In the meantime, any person who has gotten sick or lost a loved one after an operation that may have involved contaminated devices will want to consult an attorney as soon as possible to examine their legal options.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Number of deadly infections from dirty scopes is far higher than previously estimated," Chad Terhune, April 15, 2016

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