Many Nebraska readers have heard the term superbug but may not be quite clear on exactly what it means or what level of personal risk is posed by a superbug outbreak. In short, a superbug is a type of bacteria that has evolved to become highly resistant to antibiotics and poses a high level of risk to those who are exposed. Superbugs are often found in medical environments, where they have plenty of opportunities to grow stronger and spread. When a superbug outbreak occurs, those who are exposed can become very sick or even die. In the wake of a serious outbreak within one hospital, a defective product lawsuit has been filed against the manufacturer of a medical scope believed to have spread the bacteria.

The lawsuit was filed by the family of a man who checked into the hospital for an endoscopic procedure. He was infected with a superbug and died shortly afterward. His family sued both Olympus Corp., the manufacturer of the defective scope, and the hospital where the procedure took place. However, in an unusual twist, the hospital has now joined the suit against Olympus.

It is believed that the superbug outbreak was caused by a failure to properly clean and disinfect the duodenoscopes, which are long, flexible medical devices that are placed down a patient’s throat during certain types of medical procedures. The devices are difficult to clean, and Olympus has issued specific cleaning instructions. While the hospital claims that those cleaning procedures were followed, it is believed that the bacteria was still present on the scopes when they were used in later procedures, thus causing the outbreak.

Olympus manufactures approximately 85% of all such scopes used within the United States, and it supplies hospitals in other parts of the world as well. After a similar superbug outbreak in Europe, the company sent safety warnings concerning proper cleaning of the devices. As the defective product case moves forward, many in Nebraska and across the nation may have cause for concern if they require an endoscopic procedure that makes use of these medical devices.  

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Superbug outbreaks: Seattle hospital accuses Olympus of hiding scope defects“, Chad Terhune, May 12, 2015