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Superbug outbreak: California lawmaker seeks Congress hearing

A California lawmaker on Monday demanded that an investigation should be launched by the Congress into the steps taken by the US Food and Drug Administration to prevent additional superbug infections after an outbreak at a Los Angeles hospital due to infected medical scopes.

US Republican Ted Lieu, D-Calif., sent a letter asking the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to hold a hearing on the issue, which he said "poses both health and national security risks." The FDA is being overseen by the committee.

Lieu noted in his letter that the government has pledged to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. An alert was issued by the FDA last week after seven patients at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center became infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, during endoscopic procedures. Two patients have died.

A total of 179 patients have been notified by the hospitals who are facing risk of being exposed between October and January and offered a free home test kit. Results will take several weeks.

It may be recalled that hospitals in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Washington have witnessed similar outbreaks in recent years.

The FDA received 75 reports between January 2013 and December 2014 involving 135 patients who may have been infected by contaminated scopes. For its part, the FDA has admitted that the complex design of the devices known as duodenoscopes can make them hard to clean. The agency has said taking the scopes off the market "would prevent hundreds of thousands of patients from access to this beneficial and often life-saving procedure."