Infection from contaminated hospital ultrasound gels pose a huge risk

Monday, November 26, 2012 by: PF Louis
Tags: ultrasound gel, infections, hospitals

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(NaturalNews) Most of us are familiar with ultrasound applications for imaging internal body events, especially with pregnancy. It offers what most consider a safe visual entry into the womb, though some disagree.

Unlike still images from radiation emitting used x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, ultrasound imaging, also known as ultrasonography, uses very high frequency sound waves to capture moving imagery of internal organs as they function, blood as it flows, or the beating heart of a forming fetus. Surgeons can use it to guide their operation.

The frequencies used in diagnostic ultrasound or ultrasonography are typically between two and 18 MHz. The sound range for human hearing tops out at 20 KHz.

Ultrasound diagnostics can be conducted on the body's surface with a transducer pad or internally with probes inserted orally or through another orifice with flexible tubes.

Either way, a gel has to be applied in order to enhance sound wave transmission and assure smooth, clear imagery from the transducer that both emits the high frequency sound waves and receives them back to be electronically interpreted into images.

Chiropractors and physical therapists also use a form of ultrasound therapy to relieve pain, inflammation, and speed up tissue healing. But the mechanical procedure is similar to ultrasonography, and also requires applying gels on the skin where the transducer makes contact.

A flap over ultrasonic gel contamination

After 16 cardiac patients were infected from gels used in transeophageal echocardiography (TEE), where a probe is inserted orally to position an ultrasonic transducer in the esophagus near the heart, the FDA took samples of the gels used and warned other health practitioners from using the product.

Sample analysis of the product, Other-Sonic Generic Ultrasound Transmission Gel, made by Pharmaceutical Innovations showed contamination with two types of bacteria: Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Klebsiella oxytoca.

The FDA warned hospitals and health professionals to avoid using those products. "Although Other-Sonic Generic Ultrasound Transmission Gel is not labeled as either sterile or non-sterile, it is NOT sterile," asserted the FDA.

By themselves, neither one of those bacteria are extremely hazardous. To be fair, pseudomonos aeruginosa occurs in dirt and water. That's what causes swimmer's ear and hot tub rash. The other similar bacteria, klesiealla oxytoca, is common to healthcare facilities. It's possible that the manufacturing process may have caused only the pseudomonos aeruginosa contamination.

Neither one of those bacteria are normally dangerous to otherwise healthy folks. They can colonize on the skin without apparent symptoms, and the rashes and swimmer's ear infections are normally treatable.

But if either one gets into open skin or is carried internally by an ultrasonic probe on a person whose immunity is compromised by disease or invasive therapy, an infection can occur and spread. These infections usually begin in the bladder, lungs, or bloodstream.

Considering that in those cases, a person's immune system is compromised, and the treatments for minor skin irritations caused by either bacterium don't work, the infection can spread throughout the bloodstream and cause sepsis (whole body inflammation).

Sepsis from either bacterium is very difficult to treat. This could result in death. If the infection "metastasizes" into the blood, sepsis can overwhelm and kill that person.

Precautions proposed by medical professionals

Due to the recent cardiac patient pseudomonos and other earlier similar gel contamination episodes over the last couple of decades, Susan Oleszkowicz, MPH (Master of Public Health) urged taking measures to ensure ultrasonic gels are not contaminated or at least won't spread infections.

Essentially, she and others advocate sterile, single-use gels for those who are most sensitive and immune compromised and/or undergoing invasive procedures, while ensuring multi-use gels for those who are healthy with intact skin should be sealed after each use.

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