'Superbug' Outbreak at California Hospital, More Than 160 Exposed

PHOTO: The exterior of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is shown, Feb. 18, 2015, in Los Angeles.PlayFrancine Orr/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
WATCH Nearly 180 People Exposed to Drug-Resistant Superbug Known as CRE

A potentially deadly "superbug" resistant to antibiotics has infected seven patients, including two who died, and more than 160 others were exposed at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center through contaminated medical instruments, the hospital revealed.

The drug-resistant superbug known as CRE was likely transmitted to the Los Angeles patients by contaminated medical scopes during endoscopic procedures that took place between October 2014 and January 2015, a university statement said.

The bacteria may have been a “contributing factor” in the deaths of two patients, according to the university.

UCLA says it sterilized the scopes according to manufacturer standards, but it is now using a decontamination process “that goes above and beyond the manufacturer and national standards.”

Fears linger that more confirmed cases of the bacteria could emerge.

By one estimate, CRE, or carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae, can contribute to death in up to half of seriously infected patients, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bacteria can cause infections of the bladder or lungs, leading to coughing, fever or chills. CRE infections have been reported in every state except Idaho, Alaska and Maine, according to the CDC.

UCLA said infections may have been transmitted through two endoscopes used during the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic and bile-duct problems.

"We notified all patients who had this type of procedure, and we were using seven different scopes,” UCLA spokeswoman Dale Tate said. “Only two of them were found to be infected. In an abundance of caution, we notified everybody.”

A similar outbreak from contaminated medical scopes infected 32 people in Seattle from 2012 to 2014. Other superbug cases have been previously reported in cities such as Pittsburgh and Chicago.

Federal, state and local health officials are investigating the outbreak in Los Angeles, and warning letters, as well as home testing kits, have been sent to those potentially at risk.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.