More than 200 patients at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge may have been exposed to a rare and potentially very dangerous form of bacteria. They are all patients who underwent an endoscopic procedure at the facility last year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it's the largest outbreak of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria ever seen in the United States.
The bacteria is called carbapenem- resistant enterobacteriaceae, or CRE for short. Advocate Lutheran General says its infection prevention specialists noticed a handful of cases, so the hospital notified both the state and county departments of public health, as well as the CDC. They all investigated and found the common link.
Dr. Leo Kelly is the hospital's vice president of medical management. He explains that that type of procedure -- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) -- is usually ordered to take a look at the pancreas or bile ducts if there's some sort of blockage, tumor or inflammation.
The hospital is reaching out to patients who had the procedure between January and September of 2013, both by registered letter and phone call.
Today, Dr. Kelly said that the hospital has screened 114 of the 243 patients who had the procedure. Of them, 38 showed the presence of CRE. Of them, 28 were asymptomatic carriers, meaning they had no infections or illnesses as a result of the bacteria.
But the remaining 10 did have infections, and were treated with antibiotics to which the bacteria is not resistant -- and then they were released.
Dr. Kelly explains that many of them were already chronically ill when they presented with the bacteria.
An explanation for how the bacteria began to spread is still under investigation from the CDC, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the Food and Drug Administration, because it has oversight of medical equipment.
And since all of this, the hospital has changed the way it sterilizes the scopes that are used for the ERCP after the investigation started.
Dr. Kelly says he's now confident that patients are no longer at risk of coming in contact with that bacteria.
As for the remaining 100-plus patients who haven't been tested, the hospital is still hoping to get in touch with them somehow, since they haven't responded to letters or phone calls. Otherwise, they're releasing no further medical information on any of the patients.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Public Health is requiring all medical facilities in the state to report any cases of CRE infections.