PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Officials say they’ve figured out how several patients at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital came down with a superbug.

Health officials say they think the superbug, called CRE, was inside some of the gastrointestinal scopes used to examine some patients.

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Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography is a procedure in which a flexible scope is fed into the patient’s mouth, down the throat, and finally to the duodenum, of the small intestine nearest the stomach. It looks for stones, tumors or blockages in the gastrointestinal tract.

“Every time there’s an issue, we figure it out,” says Dr. Carlene Muto, the director of Infection Prevention at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital.

In November 2012, doctors at UPMC began seeing patients infected with “CRE,” a so-called superbug resistant to antibiotics. The bug, infecting more than a dozen patients, was linked to the reusable scopes.

“We sort of traced it back and traced it back, and figured it out that they had exposure to gastroenterology scopes,” Dr. Muto said.

The scopes were being cleaned according to current CDC guidelines. But the design of certain scopes was believed to be causing the problems.

“So the way that they’re designed, this one scope makes it very difficult to pass the disinfectant through all parts of the scope,” said Dr. Muto.

The long months of detective work paid off.

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UPMC now has a new protocol for disinfecting the scopes that is in place throughout its hospital system.

No deaths were directly due to the superbug.

Now, the scopes are being cleaned by gas sterilization using ethylene oxide. The CDC is looking at implementing what the UPMC investigators learned.

“It is our understanding that the national guidelines will not change to suggest that the scopes need to be sterilized,” said Dr. Muto.

The new process takes 18 hours versus two hours the old way. And the hospitals have had to double their number of scopes to meet patient demand.

But the detectives who solved this case are more than satisfied.

“This is never about the money. This is about keeping our patients and employees safe,” says Dr. Muto.

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