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University of Michigan investigation demonstrates filthy surgical instruments are common hazard

It does little good for your surgeon to "scrub up" carefully, if the tools of his profession harbor bacteria.  In part because of a design flaw in many surgical instruments, it turns out that bacteria and debris are frequently carried from patient to patient in inflow/outflow cannulas, arthroscopic shavers, endoscopes and other instruments. Recent investigations have documented literally hundreds of infections, some fatal, transported within these instruments because the medical professionals using them had not followed manufacturers' instructions on cleaning.  In other cases, however, investigators have determined that the manufacturers' instructions are simply not adequate to remove surgical debris (and germs). 

Jahan Azizi, a risk management clinical engineer in the University of Michigan Health System presented "ominous" data at an FDA-sponsored workshop in 2011 documenting the pervasive problem.  Aziza explained that when his crew ran a surgical camera through 350 surgery-ready suction tips already cleaned to manufacturer's standards, they found that all but seven contained debris from past surgeries.  All fifteen arthroscopic shavers the team examined also contained biological material and debris.  The problem with the suction tips was a design flaw that trapped debris where cleaning brushes would not reach it.

Part of the overall problem, according to experts, is the revolution in surgery from hand-held steel instruments to micro-sized polymer robotic instruments that are far more difficult to clean.  Experts say the problem can also be traced to central cleaning facilities in hospitals where minimum-wage employees are charged with re-circulating a limited number of a wide variety of instruments that may be re-used immediately or sit for weeks.

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