Having a 'harmless' ultrasound? Beware of serious infections

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: ultrasound, infections, risk

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(NaturalNews) Unlike when you have an x-ray or CT scan, you are not exposed to ionizing radiation exposure when you have an ultrasound test. Instead, the ultrasound machine creates images using high-frequency sound waves which reflect off body structures to create images of various parts of the body. Ultrasounds are very common and are used for examining breasts, unborn babies, arms and legs, hearts, ovaries and more.

A transducer (handheld probe) slides over the area being examined and the whole test is painless. Sounds harmless, right? Not necessarily.

While some people have raised questions about the high-frequency sounds damaging fetuses, now there is another concern. It turns out that reports are accumulating that show the clear, water-based conducting gel that's applied to the skin so the transducer will slide easily can be contaminated with bacteria that can cause life-threatening illnesses.

In the upcoming December issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, guidelines are being proposed by epidemiologists from Beaumont Health System in hopes of reducing the risk of infection from contaminated gels. The recommendations are based on the authors' firsthand experiences with an outbreak of Pseudomonas aeruginosa that was traced to ultrasound transmission gel contaminated with this bacteria. Pseudomonas aeruginosa can cause serious infections, including pneumonia, urinary tract infections and bacteremia (spread of the bacteria to the bloodstream). It is especially dangerous in patients with compromised immune systems. And it can be fatal.

In December of 2011, researchers discovered an unusual cluster of Pseudomonas aeruginosa in a cardiovascular surgery intensive care unit during routine infection control surveillance. The outbreak was tracked down to bottles of ultrasound transmission gel that were contaminated during the manufacturing process and that were being used for intraoperative transesophageal echocardiography. This information eventually resulted in a national recall of the product.

Unfortunately, it turns out that this wasn't a one-time fluke that can be blamed on a sloppy manufacturer. An investigation found these gels can actually serve as mediums for bacterial growth. Additional studies have now shown contaminated gels were source of other outbreaks of infection in the last 20 years.

"After our investigation of the Pseudomonas outbreak last year linked the source of the outbreak to contaminated ultrasound gel, we were surprised to find that very little guidance is available on appropriate uses for different ultrasound gel products," said Susan Oleszkowicz, MPH, lead author of the paper, in a statement to the media.

The new proposed guidelines for recommended uses of ultrasound transmission gels call on manufacturers of ultrasound gel and professional societies to take an active role in developing recommendations for appropriate and intended use of these products. The guidelines specifically point out the critical need for sterile, single-dose ultrasound gel in any invasive procedure or procedures involving non-intact skin or fresh surgical wounds and the fact that sterile, single-dose ultrasound gel should be used with newborns or critically ill children. The authors also state that multi-dose, non-sterile gel can still be used on intact skin, but potentially contaminated containers should be sealed appropriately when not in use, and replaced when empty, not simply refilled.



About the author:
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA''''s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine''''s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic''''s "Men''''s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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