Moses Cone working to keep superbug from spreading to Piedmont

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Health experts at Moses Cone Health don’t expect the superbug outbreak that has killed two people in North Carolina in recent months to spread to the Triad.

Carolinas HealthCare, based in Charlotte, said it’s treated 15 for the disease so far in 2015.

Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, is not a new disease. Doctors and nurses have been treating cases sporadically for years.

CRE is a naturally forming bacteria in the body, but usually becomes a problem when bacteria is passed from one person to another through medical tools that are improperly cleaned.

At Moses Cone, deaths in California and North Carolina have prompted the health system to implement an extra step to their cleaning process.

“The company has set up standards on how to clean these scopes that the Federal Drug Administration has approved how to clean,” said Wayne McFatter, interim executive director of operative systems for Cone Health System. “These scopes should be safe if the guidelines are followed properly. Once you vary from those guidelines -- that is when you run into trouble.”

The specialized scopes, used for pancreatic and gallbladder issues, are scrubbed in an enzymatic solution inside and out.

The scopes are then transferred to a high-level disinfectant machine where they go through a hydrogen peroxide flush for around 30 minutes. McFatter said because the scopes are being used more often by doctors to avoid surgery the company is going to start repeating the disinfectant process and running the scopes through the machines twice.

“It's a superbug because it’s able to survive,” said Dr. Cynthia Snider, an infectious disease expert with Moses Cone. “Hospitals have been watching them closely.”

Snider said people who are already battling another disease and have compromised immune systems, like cancer patients or organ transplant recipients, have a higher likelihood of coming down with a superbug.

Nursing homes are another common place to pick up the disease.

Snider said if someone is suspected of having CRE they are quickly isolated from other patients and treated. She said the mortality rate for someone suffering from CRE is close to 50 percent.

Still, Snider said the disease is not a huge threat to the general public or anyone who is in good health.

“It’s usually the patient that's been hospitalized, that's exposed to lots of drugs that's had other infections, with other multi-drug resistant pathogens,” said Snider.