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Study issues distressing finding re medical scopes and bacteria

Hospital patients "have a right to assume that clean instruments are being used on them."

We pose this question to our readers in Tucson and across Arizona: Does that seem to be at all a controversial or unreasonable statement?

We can well anticipate the unanimous response. You don't think so. And neither do we.

Nor does the statement's author, who is a principal researcher of a medical study released earlier this week that has quickly achieved high-profile status, and for an alarming reason.

The published report, which appears in the current issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, concludes that medical scopes used in colonoscopies and in the diagnosis and treatment of intestinal problems often harbor bacteria following cleaning after use.

And, tellingly, growth that one study commentator described as "quite shocking to see" continues to exist on some scopes even when best practices are followed to clean and disinfect them.

The matter is certainly of legitimate -- and heightened -- concern, of course, especially given the deadly outcomes in recent years that have been associated with duodenoscopes used to treat gastrointestinal tract maladies. As noted in one national media publication discussing the tainted scopes following cleaning, so-called superbug bacteria that remained on some of those scopes brought about the death of at least 35 patients.

Although the above-cited study uncovered another -- and admittedly less virulent -- form of bacteria, the aforementioned publication notes that outside experts "said the research was rigorous and raised serious questions."

More work obviously remains to be done to ensure sterility following cleaning. Given past results and, now, the disturbing findings of the recent study, health regulators, as well as hospital administrators and medical practitioners, are all reasonably on notice regarding the risks associated with scope use.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that is has taken due notice of the research and has advised medical facilities to promptly stop using any scopes that are noticeably damaged in any way.

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