An outbreak of the drug-resistant superbug CRE has already killed two people and infected seven other patients at UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Center, and officials fear 179 others may have been exposed. UCLA believes the bacteria were transmitted through two specialized endoscopes that were inserted down patients' throats, reports the Los Angeles Times. The scopes, which have a light and camera at the end, can be effective in treating gallstones and some forms of cancer, but they're difficult to disinfect properly and can accumulate bacteria, reports CBS. The university has begun contacting patients who may have been exposed between October 2014 and January of this year.
"The two scopes involved with the infection were immediately removed, and UCLA is now utilizing a decontamination process that goes above and beyond the manufacturer and national standards," a UCLA spokeswoman tells the Times. The outbreak follows several similar ones, including one in northeastern Illinois last year, and experts say the cases could be the biggest superbug outbreak ever linked to a reusable medical instrument. (Concern is rising about superbugs in hospitals across the country, but a recent breakthrough in antibiotics could give health authorities a powerful new tool to deal with the problem.)