Hundreds of patients exposed to terrifying superbug at UCLA hospital

CDC Director Tom Frieden has referred to the bug as a "nightmare bacteria"

Published February 19, 2015 3:46PM (EST)

  (<a href=''>kubais</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(kubais via Shutterstock)

Administrators at UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Center are scrambling after almost 180 patients were exposed to a drug-resistant superbug via contaminated medical equipment. Two patients have already died among seven who have become infected with the drug-resistant bug, known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE.

NBC News reports that in 2013, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden referred to CRE as a "nightmare bacteria." "Our strongest antibiotics don't work and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections." CRE infections generally occur in hospitals and can lead to infections in the lungs or bladder.

The L.A. Times' Chad Terhune reports:

UCLA said it discovered the outbreak late last month while running tests on a patient. This week, it began to notify 179 other patients who were treated from October to January and offer them medical tests. By some estimates, if the infection spreads to a person's bloodstream, the bacteria can kill 40 percent to 50 percent of the patients.

UCLA is now conducting an internal investigation to determine if the disease "may have been transmitted during a procedure that uses [a] specialized scope to diagnose and treat pancreaticobiliary diseases and a contributing factor in the death of two patients," reads a statement from the university.

"The two scopes involved with the infection were immediately removed and UCLA is now utilizing a decontamination process that goes above and beyond the manufacturer and national standards," said Dale Tate, a spokesperson for the university.

"There is either a design issue to be addressed or a change to the guidelines for the cleaning process," said Andrew Ross, chief of gastroenterology at Virginia Mason said in an interview with the L.A. Times. "It's the role of the federal government to make some of those decisions."

By Joanna Rothkopf

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Bacteria Health Hospitals Medicine Superbug