HARTFORD — Hartford Hospital said Wednesday that it has contacted 281 patients who might have been exposed to a strain of E. coli resistant to some drugs — a version of the bacteria that differs from the "superbug" outbreak linked to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Dr. Rocco Orlando of Hartford Hospital said that two scopes used in the procedure involving the 281 patients were removed from service in December, before the California outbreak. They are the same devices used at the Los Angeles hospital.
There is a defect in this particular scope that makes it nearly impossible to be completely disinfected, Orlando said. The hospital is using a different type of scope that doesn't have this design flaw. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning Feb. 19 that the devices might be difficult to clean properly.
Orlando, chief medical officer for Hartford HealthCare, said that the endoscopies at issue are specific procedures reserved for very ill patients, such as those with infections or cancer, and are not general endoscopies. The procedures occurred in the past several months.
"This is a very small subset of patients; this was not a routine endoscopy," Orlando said at a news briefing.
The hospital said it does not believe that the 281 patients are at an additional risk for infection because of this recent finding. Cultures will be taken from these patients, Orlando said, adding that, unlike the California strain, this version can be treated with certain antibiotics.
"The good news for us … is [this is] an organism that is sensitive to many antibiotics," Orlando said.
In a written release, the hospital said that a "routine monitoring of cultures" of patients determined an "increase in Extended Spectrum Beta-lactamase E. coli."
Last year, infection-control nurses saw an increase in the frequency of patients coming into the hospital who were infected with this strain of E. coli. Dr. Jack Ross and the infectious disease team at Hartford Hospital did an investigation, and found that the common theme among the five or six infected patients were these two scopes, which were also used on the 281 other patients. Hospital officials said the infected patients were successfully treated.
The medical device is the same one that officials at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center said was used when seven patients were infected by a drug-resistant "superbug" that might have contributed to two deaths.
"This version of E. coli is not the same organism you may have heard about in recent media reports," Hartford Hospital said in a statement.
"We do not believe any of our patients are in danger, but because safety is one of our core values, we are reaching out to every patient who has undergone this procedure and may have come in contact with this version of E. coli," the hospital's statement said. "We have been proactive, calling patients this week to alert them, and asking them to come in for screening."
Hospital officials said "the process for cleaning our endoscopes was followed," but "due to the same design flaw we are seeing across the country, there is a section of the scope that is difficult to disinfect."
William Gerrish, a spokesman for the Department of Public Health, said that Hartford Hospital had notified DPH about the potential exposure and that DPH was monitoring the situation.
Courant staff writer Nicholas Rondinone contributed to this story.