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Seventy-one percent of reusable medical scopes deemed ready for use on patients tested positive for bacteria at three major U.S. hospitals, according to a new studay.

The paper, published last month in the American Journal of Infection Control, underscores the infection risk posed by a wide range of endoscopes commonly used to peer deep into the body. It signals a lack of progress by manufacturers, hospitals and regulators in reducing contamination despite numerous reports of superbug outbreaks and patient deaths, experts say.

“These results are pretty scary,” said Janet Haas, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. “These are very complicated pieces of equipment, and even when hospitals do everything right we still have a risk associated with these devices. None of us have the answer right now.”

The study found problems in scopes used for colonoscopies, lung procedures, kidney stone removal and other routine operations. Researchers said the findings confirm earlier work showing that these issues aren’t simply confined to duodenoscopes, gastrointestinal devices tied to at least 35 deaths in the U.S. since 2013, including three at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center. Scope-related infections also were reported in 2015 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and Pasadena’s Huntington Hospital.

The bacteria this latest study found weren’t superbugs, but researchers said there were potential pathogens that would put patients at high risk of infection. The study didn’t track whether the patients became sick from possible exposure.

The study’s authors said the intricate design of many endoscopes continues to hinder effective cleaning and those problems are compounded when health care workers skip steps or ignore basic protocols in a rush to get scopes ready for the next patient. The study identified issues with colonoscopes, bronchoscopes, ureteroscopes and gastroscopes, among others.

“Sadly, in the 10 years since we’ve been looking into the quality of endoscope reprocessing, we haven’t seen improvement in the field,” said Cori Ofstead, the study’s lead author and an epidemiologist in St. Paul, Minn., referring to how the devices are prepared for reuse.

“If anything, the situation is worse because more people are having these minimally invasive procedures and physicians are doing more complicated procedures with endoscopes that, frankly, are not even clean,” Ofstead said.

The rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs,which can be fatal in up to half of patients, has made addressing these problems more urgent. About 2 million Americans are sickened by drug-resistant bacteria each year and 23,000 die, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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