Seven patients infected with drug-resistant 'superbug' bacteria at UCLA hospital
Illustration of bacteria cells (Shutterstock)

Seven patients were infected with a potentially deadly, drug-resistant strain of bacteria while undergoing medical procedures at a California hospital, the UCLA Health System said, and the "superbug" may have contributed to two deaths.

The University of California's hospital system in Los Angeles said on Wednesday that it had contacted more than 100 people who might have been exposed to carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) bacteria during endoscopic procedures between October and January. UCLA is offering those patients free home testing kits that it will later analyze.

UCLA said the bacteria might have spread during procedures that used a specialized endoscope inserted down the throat to diagnose and treat pancreas and bile duct diseases.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the outbreak occurred at UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Center.

Hospitals across the United States have reported exposures from the same type of medical equipment in recent years, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it was working with other government agencies and manufacturers of the scopes to minimize risks to patients.

Superbug infections are difficult to treat because some of the bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the germs could contribute to death in up to 50 percent of infected patients.

According to the Times, UCLA became aware of the outbreak late last month. The paper reported that a total of 179 people might have been exposed.

State and local public health officials were immediately notified, the UCLA statement said, and the contaminated scopes were removed from use.

The hospital system said it had been sterilizing the scopes according to the manufacturer's standards but was now using a more rigorous process.

In January, Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle said a bacteria spread through contaminated endoscopes had infected 32 people over two years.

Eleven of the patients infected between 2012 and 2014 eventually died. Because they were critically ill before being infected, it was unclear if the bacteria played any role in their deaths, health officials said.

Contaminated endoscopes also infected dozens of patients in Pittsburgh in 2012 and Chicago in 2014, health officials said. No fatalities were directly linked to those infections.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb, Curtis Skinner and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Nick Macfie and Lisa Von Ahn)