Clinic opened to check for infection from probe

No obvious signs found in 8 tested, doctors say

March 06, 2002|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,SUN STAFF

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital opened a clinic yesterday for patients concerned that they might have contracted a serious lung infection when they were examined with a defective medical instrument.

Eight patients were seen at the clinic, where doctors performed physical exams, took chest X-rays and performed other tests to determine if they were infected by a contaminated bronchoscope - a device used to examine the lungs.

Another 20 patients are scheduled to be seen today, continuing a process that could last two or three weeks. The hospital had contacted more than 400 patients who had undergone examinations with the faulty devices between June 1 and Feb. 4.

Dr. Paul J. Scheel Jr., vice chairman for medicine, said the patients seen yesterday and those scheduled for appointments today suffered from serious underlying conditions such as lung cancer, cystic fibrosis or AIDS, or had recently had lung transplants.

None, however, had obvious signs of infection with pseudomonas bacteria, the organism that contaminated three bronchoscopes that were used in the hospital until the problem was discovered last month.

"None of the patients was admitted," said Scheel.

Patients infected with pseudomonas would probably experience symptoms, such as fever and shortness of breath, within two to three weeks, doctors said. If a patient is infected, it could take one to three days for bacteria to grow in sputum cultures.

The device, made by Olympus America, was the subject of a manufacturer's recall when a Tennessee hospital reported that a loose valve on the side of the scope had trapped bacteria, making standard disinfection procedures ineffective. The company sent out recall letters that were dated Nov. 30, but Hopkins said its notice was mistakenly sent to a hospital loading dock and didn't get into the right hands for two months.

In the meantime, doctors began investigating a two- to three-fold increase in the number of pseudomonas infections among patients who had undergone bronchoscopy, a procedure used to examine or biopsy the lungs. Cultures from about 100 patients tested positive for the bacteria.

By the time the letter made its way to the appropriate authorities, officials said, Hopkins doctors traced the problem to the faulty valve. On Monday, Scheel said the contaminated bronchoscope may have contributed to the death of two patients.

Though a larger number of patients examined with the faulty bronchoscopes have died, Scheel said most succumbed to their underlying illnesses.

Six Hopkins physicians are studying medical charts to see if additional deaths might be linked to the bronchoscope, he said.

"Once we have all the data compiled, we will have an outside group come in in the next two weeks" and conduct a similar analysis, Scheel said.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency had not received reports from other hospitals suspecting that the device had spread infection.

Sun staff writer Tom Pelton contributed to this article.

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