Endoscopy Practice and Safety
Editor: Peter B. Cotton ed.
7. Infection control in endoscopy
Alistair Cowen and Dianne Jones
The prevention of infections associated with endoscopy is complex and requires meticulous attention to detail. Practical limitations
of applying recognized sterilizing and high-level disinfection processes to endoscopes must be understood, as must the mechanisms
of infection and the organisms which provide the greatest clinical risks. Antibiotic prophylaxis will depend not only on the
particular endoscopic procedure undertaken but also on a variety of host factors. Detailed endoscope reprocessing protocols
are discussed with particular emphasis on the problems of biofilms and the difficulties of providing rinse water of adequate
quality. Automatic flexible endoscope reprocessors are widely used but the numerous problems associated with these machines
are often inadequately addressed. Part of any quality control program must be adequate microbiological surveillance of endoscopes.
Sterilization and disinfection
Sterilization is defined as the complete elimination or destruction of all forms of microbial life . Sterility is a state more easily conceived of than demonstrated in a practical way. How can the sterility of a batch of
medical devices be proven? Microbiological examination of a few items of a batch does not exclude a 1/100 000 or a 1/1 000 000 possibility that the batch contains an article which is unsterile. In practice safety assurance levels (SAL) are
used . This technique studies a selected microorganism (usually a resistant bacterial spore) under fixed conditions in a sterilizing
process and extrapolates the chance of remaining organisms from the inactivation curve. The usual convention is for a medical
device labeled as 'sterile' to have an SAL of 10-6, i.e. there is one in one million chance or less that the item is unsterile. This is an arbitrary definition which has no
intrinsic scientific merit. For example, there is no evidence that items with an SAL of 10-3 have more adverse patient outcomes than items with an SAL of 10-6.
High-level disinfection is defined as the elimination or destruction of all forms of microbial life except high concentrations
of some spores .
What level of disinfection is required?
Earle H. Spalding devised a practical approach to patient safety and medical device usage.
Critical items are those which enter sterile tissues, including body cavities and vascular spaces, and should be sterile.
'Semi-critical items' are those which come into contact with mucous membranes or 'skin that is not intact', and should undergo at least high-level disinfection.
This has proved to be a workable, practical, and largely safe classification. In clinical practice the boundaries are not
so clearly defined. Where does 'non-intact skin' end and 'sterile tissue' begin? Who can know with certainty that an endoscope will 'come into contact' with intestinal mucosa but not breach it?
It is generally accepted that endoscopes should undergo high-level disinfection and that accessories which breach mucosa,
or may breach mucosa, should be sterile . These will include biopsy forceps, snares, injecting needles, dilators, ERCP equipment, and implantable devices such as
The practical problem
There is a curious belief that if endoscopes are subjected to a 'sterilizing process' then many of the problems of endoscopy associated infections will disappear. Indeed, at least one state of the United States
of America is considering passing a law to this effect. Unfortunately, this attitude reveals a basic ignorance of the fundamental
problem faced in endoscope reprocessing. Endoscopes cannot be subjected to reliable, easily validated, high temperature disinfecting
or sterilizing systems because of the heat sensitive nature of the materials from which they are constructed. In addition
the complexity of long, fine, interconnecting channels which are difficult to clean, impossible to inspect, and which cannot
be adequately assessed for channel surface irregularities and damage, make endoscope reprocessing a special challenge for
any system of sterilization or disinfection .
These physical characteristics of endoscopes have dictated that time consuming manual cleaning by well trained staff is necessary.
It has been demonstrated on numerous occasions that any attempt to achieve high-level disinfection or sterilization by any
of the currently available techniques, including ethylene oxide exposure and all chemical sterilants, will be ineffective
if appropriate meticulous manual cleaning has not been completed [5,6].
Chemical biocides which are used for endoscope reprocessing throughout the world include glutaraldehyde, peracetic acid, chlorine
dioxide, hydrogen peroxide, and ortho-phthalaldehyde. A number of new processes including those based on acid electrolytic
water are currently undergoing evaluation. None of these chemicals or processes can be considered ideal.
In most developed countries biocides used for high-level disinfection of endoscopes must receive appropriate government approval
after submission of extensive validation data. It must be recognized that the effect of biocides on microorganisms is a complex
process where variation in temperature, concentration, and remaining organic material on devices, markedly alter efficacy
and it is therefore critical that the agent be used strictly as directed by the manufacturer.
The level of intrinsic microbial resistance to chemical sterilants varies widely . Spore forming organisms are relatively resistant. Fortunately the common microorganisms of greatest concern to endoscopy,
particularly HBV and HIV, are among the most sensitive of all microbiological agents to some chemical sterilants. HCV, being
a lipid containing virus, is predicted to have a similar sensitivity to HBV. Intermediate levels of resistance are shown by
common vegetative bacteria. Some increased resistance is present with mycobacteria and non-lipid containing viruses, e.g.
polio virus, hepatitis A virus. These levels of resistance are far less than for bacterial spores.
The critical points in reprocessing
The critical points of any endoscope reprocessing system:
- Adequate cleaning is by far the most important part of any endoscope reprocessing system.
- Numerous studies show that no disinfecting or 'sterilizing' process capable of use with current flexible endoscopes will achieve even high-level disinfection, let alone sterilization,
if adequate cleaning has not been undertaken first.
- Currently there are no studies in peer reviewed journals that consistently show that automated machine cleaning of endoscopes
can achieve satisfactory removal of biological material.
Risks of infections associated with endoscopic procedures
Mechanisms of infection
- An infectious disease may be transmitted from a patient to subsequent patients because infected biological material is not
totally removed from the endoscope or accessories during reprocessing.
- Endemic health care facility pathogens, including those present in the water supply, may contaminate and colonize endoscopes,
automatic flexible endoscope reprocessors (AFERs), storage areas, or water feed systems.
- Endoscopic manipulation may result in bacteremia from the patient's endogenous gut flora.
The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy has estimated that the overall risk of patient to patient transmission
of a serious infection at endoscopy is 1 in 1.8 million examinations. Since this estimate is based on retrospective rather than prospective studies, it is almost certainly
a significant underestimation, but it does indicate the rarity of patient to patient transmission of serious infectious diseases.
The risk of endoscopy associated infections due to the contamination of instrument or accessory items by health care facility
environmental pathogens, or infection with the patient's own flora, is very significantly higher.
Whether or not a clinical infection occurs as a result of an endoscopic procedure will depend upon:
- infecting organisms
- the endoscopic procedures
- host factors.
A vast array of microorganisms could be associated with endoscopy transmitted infections. In practice a relatively limited
number of infective agents have been transmitted by endoscopy. The more important agents together with those that are of major
theoretical concern are considered here.
Numerous reports in the older literature of transmission of salmonella and related species were associated with cleaning and
disinfection protocols which would be totally inadequate today . Transmission of such infections indicates serious deficiencies in cleaning and disinfection which would be cause for major
concern and investigation.
Clostridium difficile is a spore forming organism and therefore might be expected to be highly resistant to chemical disinfectants. There is clear
evidence of person to person transmission by environmental contamination at hospital ward level. Fortunately, Clostridium difficile spores are much less resistant to chemical disinfectants than most other spore forming organisms. To date there is no definite
evidence of endoscopic transmission of Clostridium difficile.
There is no proven case of transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis by gastrointestinal endoscopy. Numerous infections have been transmitted as a result of bronchoscopy . Contaminated suction valves, damaged biopsy channels, contaminated topical anesthetic sprays, and colonized AFERs have all
Hanson et al.  have shown that proper cleaning of bronchoscopes deliberately contaminated with Mycobacterium tuberculosis reduced the bacterial bioburden by at least 3.5 log10 and subsequent immersion in 2% glutaraldehyde for 10 min rendered the instrument free of infective material. Nicholson et al.  dramatically illustrated the critical role of cleaning by showing that a deliberately contaminated flexible bronchoscope
which was cleaned inadequately still had remaining viable Mycobacterium tuberculosis after 10 sequential full disinfection cycles.
An additional hazard is the development of multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDRTB). Infection transmission has largely been
by aerosol. An outbreak with deaths in the southern United States was convincingly traced to inadequate reprocessing of flexible
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends bronchoscopy should not be performed on patients with active TB unless
absolutely necessary. Bronchoscopy should not be regarded as the first line investigation in the diagnosis of TB. Patient
to patient and patient to staff transmission of mycobacterium tuberculosis by aerosols associated with coughing during and
after bronchoscopy is a significant hazard.
Scrupulous, mechanical cleaning by properly trained and certified endoscope reprocessors remains the best defense against
the transmission of mycobacterial disease by flexible bronchoscopy. (See also section on pseudomonas).
A variety of atypical mycobacteria may be present in the hospital water supply. These organisms frequently colonize AFERs
and are prone to develop serious chemical resistance. Some strains of atypical mycobacteria (particularly Mycobacterium chelonei) have developed almost total resistance to glutaraldehyde. Atypical mycobacteria contaminating flexible bronchoscopes have
caused pseudo-epidemics. Positive specimen cultures taken at bronchoscopy have been wrongly assumed to be patient infections,
leading to potentially seriously toxic and prolonged drug therapy .
There are several reports of Serratia marcescens being transmitted by flexible bronchoscopy. In an outbreak involving three fatalities the instrument had been inadequately
cleaned but then subjected to a full ethylene oxide sterilizing cycle .
Helicobacter pylori has been transmitted by endoscopy biopsy forceps which were inadequately cleaned . Given the high background prevalence of Helicobacter pylori infection it is likely that disease transmission by endoscopy has been significantly under reported. There is conflicting
evidence about whether endoscopists and endoscopy nurses have an increased risk of helicobacter infection.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa and related species are common environmental contaminants which may be present in tap water. Clinical endoscopy associated
infections due to Pseudomonas spp. have largely been confined to ERCP and related procedures [12,13]. There are several reports of transmission by ordinary endoscopy in severely immunocompromised patients. Pseudomonas spp. frequently colonize AFERs and may be difficult to eradicate. Kovacs et al.  have reported a strain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa which appeared to have developed chemical resistance. The organism was responsible for several ERCP-related chemical infections.
A disturbing feature of ERCP-associated pseudomonas infections has been the frequent failure by endoscopy units to recognize
Several serious episodes of bronchoscope contamination with pseudomonas have been reported from the United States recently.
Serious clinical infections and even fatalities have been linked to the contaminated bronchoscopes. The mechanisms of contamination
remain hotly debated, but a poorly designed port valve, defective or wrong connectors between bronchoscopes, and AFERs during
reprocessing appear to be major factors.
The valve port in question was designed as a non-removable part of the bronchoscope (this in itself would seem to be a seriously
flawed concept). Apparently microbiological cultures of the bronchoscope channels taken using samples collected by perfusion
of the channels from the control head to the distal tip were negative but samples collected with reverse flushing grew pseudomonas.
The episodes apparently associated with AFER connectors yet again emphasize the risk of AFERs which do not have flow alarms
on individual channels and do not test rinse water quality .
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
The transmission of HIV to a number of patients undergoing minor surgical procedures has created major public concern that
medical procedures including endoscopy may be a serious source of disease transmission. Inflammatory articles in popular magazines
in the USA, e.g. 'Do scopes spread sickness?''Medicine's dirty little secret', and 'Blood money' have all resulted in increasing public scepticism concerning the self-regulation of the medical profession. There is increasing
demand for greater official regulation and accountability. Despite these concerns there is no proven case of transmission
of HIV by endoscopy. However, the extremely long latent period before the development of clinical AIDS increases the difficulty
of detecting transmission. High concentrations of viral particles may be present in the blood during most stages of HIV infection.
Fortunately the virus is very sensitive to most chemical disinfectants including glutaraldehyde .
Elegant 'in use' studies by Hanson et al. [20,21] have demonstrated that endoscopes used in patients with HIV infection have had all infectious material removed by standard
cleaning and disinfection protocols. There have been some reports suggesting that artificially contaminated endoscopes had
remaining viral material after standard reprocessing. However, in all of these reports detection has used PCR techniques which
do not distinguish between live infective viral particles and non-infective degraded viral material. Deva et al.  have shown in the duck hepatitis model that PCR positive material remaining after reprocessing is not infective.
Despite the highly infectious nature of this virus there is only a single proven case of hepatitis B transmission by endoscopy
. The reprocessing protocol used on this instrument was clearly inadequate. A number of studies have followed patients undergoing
endoscopic procedures with instruments and accessories used on known hepatitis B positive patients and none have found evidence
of disease transmission .
Hepatitis C (HCV)
Hepatitis C has been transmitted to a patient undergoing ERCP and endoscopic sphincterotomy . HCV transmission occurred during colonoscopy from a known infective patient to the two subsequent patients . A French National blood transfusion study suggested that endoscopy was a significant risk factor for HCV acquisition. Another
French study, however, could find no evidence of increased prevalence of hepatitis C amongst patients undergoing endoscopy.
Seven cases of hepatitis C transmitted at a Brooklyn endoscopy clinic were unrelated to the endoscopy procedure [27,28]. The infections were due to reuse of syringes or needles used for the administration of sedation during the procedures. A
large number of hepatitis C infections appear to have been transmitted in an American day surgery center by the same mechanism
. Transmission of hepatitis C during simple endoscopy has been proven by detailed viral analysis . In this case it was claimed that the reprocessing protocol was adequate as distinct from the other cases reported above.
In this report it remains unclear whether disease transmission was associated with the endoscopic procedure or anesthetic
Prion diseases include CreutzfeldtJakob disease (CJD), new variant CJD (vCJD), and kuru in human beings. Animal diseases include bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE) and scrapie. Prions are unique amongst infectious agents because nucleic acid (DNA or RNA) has not been detected. The
disease is characterized by an abnormal isoform of a cellular protein called prion protein (PrPc). Mutations in the PrPc gene on chromosome 20 may result in transformation into the pathological isoform (PrPsc).
CJD occurs in sporadic, familial, iatrogenic, and occupational forms. Less than 200 cases worldwide of iatrogenic or occupational
acquired CJD have been reported . The majority of these relate to dura mater transplants or the use of human cadaveric growth hormone. Rarer sources include
contaminated neurosurgical instruments, cadaveric pituitary gonadotrophin, brain electrodes, and corneal transplants.
The risk of infection transmission depends on the concentration of abnormal prion in the tissue examined. High concentrations
exist in the brain (including the dura mater), spinal cord, and eye. Low levels are present in liver, lymphoid tissue, kidneys,
lungs, and spleen. Prions are undetectable in intestine, bone marrow, whole blood, white cells, serum, nasal mucus, saliva,
sputum, urine, feces, and vaginal secretions. Attempts to transmit CJD by blood and blood products from humans to primates
have consistently failed .
Prions unfortunately display a markedly increased resistance to conventional methods of sterilization. Commonly used disinfectants
including glutaraldehyde are ineffective. Steam sterilization (standard gravity displacement at 120°C) is only partly effective even after exposure times as long as 2 hours.
What to do in practice about CJD?
The dilemma faced by endoscopists is whether extraordinary precautions in reprocessing endoscopes need to be taken because
of the risk of CJD. The approach described by Rutala and Webber  is recommendedthat endoscopes which are exposed to essentially 'no risk tissues' will not be exposed to detectable levels of prion and therefore should be reprocessed by conventional disinfection protocols.
Clearly this does not apply to any endoscopic device used in neurosurgery. This appears to be sound scientific advice. However,
given the widespread emotional and press reactions to this devastating disease, few will be able to resist taking additional
precautions. Many will believe that patients with known CreutzfeldtJakob disease, GerstmannStrausslerScheinker syndrome, and fatal familial insomnia, and patients with undiagnosed rapidly progressive dementia should not undergo
endoscopic examination unless there is no acceptable diagnostic or therapeutic alternative. If endoscopy is necessary in proven
cases then examination should be undertaken with an endoscope reserved for this purpose. For those with a high suspicion of
disease many would prefer to use endoscopes which have reached the point of retirement from clinical service and not to reuse
the scope. This may be an argument for retaining some older endoscopes, at least in large facilities.
New variant CJD (vCJD)
Variant CJD in humans appears to be due to the transmission of the identical prion strain causing bovine spongiform encephalopathy
in cattle . The disease has a different clinical course with a much earlier age of onset, presentation with psychiatric symptoms, and
a rapid downhill progression. In complete contra-distinction to other forms of CJD large quantities of the abnormal prion
(PrPsc) are found in lymphoid tissue . In fact vCJD can reliably be diagnosed by tonsil biopsy. This obviously raises concerns that endoscopes exposed to lymphoid
tissue in the alimentary tract may become contaminated with tissue in which significant concentrations of abnormal prions
exist. Currently quantification of risk transmission is hampered by a lack of knowledge about relative prion titres in alimentary
lymphoid tissues. Recent development of a highly sensitive immunoblotting assay for vCJD should shortly allow a clearer understanding
of transmission risks associated with endoscopy . Until such information is available it is difficult to recommend any effective changes to cleaning and disinfection protocols
A wide variety of other bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, and helminths could potentially be transmitted by endoscopy. Candida
infections in immunocompromised patients have been related to endoscopy. Pseudo-infection with Rhodotorula rubra was associated with bronchoscopy. Strongyloides infection of the esophagus and cryptosporidial infection have been linked
to upper endoscopy. Many of these infectious agents are likely to represent a greater hazard to immunocompromised patients.
The endoscopic procedures
Bacteremia may be associated with simple everyday events such as teeth cleaning. The significance of the bacteremia will depend
on the particular types of organisms present, the numbers of organisms, whether the tissues are inflamed, and the degree of
Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy
Simple diagnostic endoscopy and biopsy are associated with low levels of bacteremia, usually with non-virulent organisms.
Clinically significant bacteremia may, however, occur in patients with compromised immune status and severe mucositis (e.g.
bone marrow transplantation, leukemia).
Disruption of the esophageal mucosa almost invariably occurs during esophageal dilatation. This procedure is associated with
high levels of bacteremia  and a number of serious clinical infections have been reported.
Endoscopic sclerotherapy, particularly where there is a significant submucosal injection, is associated with high levels of
bacteremia. In addition these patients are often severely immunocompromised .
Endoscopic banding is associated with significantly lower rates of bacteremia .
Lower gastrointestinal endoscopy
Somewhat surprisingly, only low levels of bacteremia have been reported in association with diagnostic colonoscopy. However,
manipulation of the sigmoid colon in patients with acute peridiverticular inflammation or abscess formation undergoing colonoscopy
may result in gross bacteremia.
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
ERCP is the one endoscopic procedure which has consistently been associated with significant clinical infection rates. Clinical
infections may be due to the patient's endogenous flora, particularly if duct obstruction is not totally relieved at the time
of the procedure. However, the vast majority of clinical infections have been with Pseudomonas aeruginosa or closely related species and have been due to contamination of the endoscope or accessory equipment [12,13,40,41]. AFERs, contaminated water feed systems, inadequate cleaning and disinfection of the forceps elevating channel, and failure
to alcohol rinse and air dry ALL duodenoscope channels have been the most common underlying causes.
Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy
Bacteremia during the procedure and wound infection have led to significant procedure related complications .
There have been conflicting reports on the degree of bacteremia occurring during endoscopic ultrasound.
Significant rates of bacteremia have been reported following endoscopic mucosectomy particularly where large quantities of
tissue are removed.
Patients with compromised immune status are significantly more susceptible to endoscopy associated infections. A wide variety
of disorders can affect immune competence. These will include infections (e.g. HIV), neoplastic disorders (particularly hematological
malignancies), chemotherapy, radiotherapy, bone marrow transplantation, advanced diseases of the liver and kidney, and specific
disorders of immune response. These patients are not only more susceptible to infections with conventional organisms but may
also be susceptible to a variety of other organisms not usually associated with human disease (e.g. atypical mycobacteria
infection). In addition they may harbour unusual organisms. In most cases these organisms will not pose a clinical threat
to other patients with normal immune status but may be a hazard to those with compromised immune systems. It is important
to remember that hospital water contamination with atypical mycobacteria, pseudomonas, or even cryptosporidia may pose a particular
hazard to the immunocompromised.
The degree of tissue damage
The greater the procedural damage caused during an endoscopic procedure, the greater the risk of subsequent infection. Significant
tissue disruption can occur during esophageal dilatation. Chemical and ischemic damage to tissues occurs with injection sclerotherapy.
Endoscopic sphincterotomy and stone extraction, removal of foreign bodies, endoscopic placement of stents, mucosectomy, and
removal of large sessile polyps are all associated with significant tissue damage.
Intrinsic sources of infection
Intrinsic sources of infection within the patient may contribute to clinical infection. Poor oral hygiene with severe bacterial
gingivitis will ensure greater contamination of instruments and accessories in the upper GI tract. Peri-diverticular abscess,
infected pseudocysts, and intra-abdominal collections may be traumatized during endoscopic procedures.
Damaged valves and implants
There is a significant risk that bacteria present during periods of bacteremia will lodge on damaged or foreign tissues. The
most important factor here is endovascular integrity. Colonization can occur with indwelling vascular devices, vascular grafts,
and coronary artery stents before complete re-epithelialization. Mechanical heart valves, valve abnormalities which create
turbulent flow, and other irregular endovascular surfaces are prone to bacterial lodgement. Artificial joints and other indwelling
foreign devices may be slightly more prone to infection following endoscopic procedures but the risk is very small and mainly
within the first few months following insertion.
Antibiotic prophylaxis for endoscopic procedures
There are three situations where antibiotic prophylaxis may be considered for endoscopic procedures:
- Patients at increased risk of bacterial endocarditis.
- Patients at increased risk of general infections following particular procedures.
Principles of prevention of bacterial endocarditis
The American Heart Association stresses that 'there are currently no randomised and carefully controlled human trials in patients with underlying structural heart disease
to definitively establish that antibiotic prophylaxis provides protection against development of endocarditis during bacteremia
inducing procedures. Further, most cases of endocarditis are not attributable to an invasive procedure'. There is no definite consensus on which patients should receive antibiotic prophylaxis for which endoscopic procedures and
indeed there is no real consensus on the preferred antibiotic regimen . Nonetheless, some general guidelines may be offered. There is a consensus that some comorbid cardiovascular conditions pose
a greater risk than others.
High risk cardiovascular conditions 
- Prosthetic heart valves.
- Previous history of endocarditis.
- Complex cyanotic congenital heart disease.
- Surgically constructed systemic pulmonary shunts or conduits.
Moderate risk cardiovascular conditions 
- Uncorrected shunt defects.
- Bicuspid aortic valves.
- Coarctation of the aorta.
- Acquired valvular dysfunction.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
- Mitral valve prolapse without regurgitation is considered a low risk condition but a moderate risk where regurgitation exists.
Recommendations for antibiotic prophylaxis
Who should receive antibiotics?
The perceived need for antibiotic prophylaxis varies also by the type of endoscopic procedure. General recommendations are
given in Fig. 1.
Clinical problems where opinions diverge
Indwelling vascular devices. Antibiotic prophylaxis may be of value for patients undergoing endoscopic procedures with a high
rate of bacteremia, particularly if they have a compromised immune system.
- Recent coronary artery stenting. Antibiotic prophylaxis has been recommended by some authorities in the first 34 months following stenting until epithelialization has occurred.
- Orthopedic prostheses. There are isolated case reports of orthopedic prosthetic infection associated with endoscopic procedures.
However, the risk is extremely low. A recent survey of program directors of infectious disease training programs found that
more than 50% of respondents felt that antibiotic prophylaxis was not indicated for any endoscopic procedures in patients
with artificial joints .
- However, there were wide variations in recommendations and there appeared to be little scientific basis for some views. The
risk is certainly highest immediately after joint replacement and many would recommend antibiotic prophylaxis for the first
few months after joint replacement, particularly if the patient has any impairment of immune competence.
What antibiotic regimen?
While there is little agreement on details of prophylactic regimens, the general principles are accepted. It is important
to ensure adequate antibiotic concentrations in the serum during and after the procedure. To reduce the likelihood of microbiological
resistance it is important that prophylactic antibiotics are given during the operative period. Commonly used antibiotic regimes
are detailed in Fig. 2.
Antibiotic prophylaxis for ERCP
The value of antibiotic prophylaxis for ERCP is also controversial . Some of this confusion has arisen because of the inappropriate use of the term 'prophylactic'. There can be little argument that patients with clinical cholangitis or other evidence of biliary or pancreatic sepsis should
be on appropriate antibiotics. There is also general consensus that patients who have undergone traumatic procedures with
major tissue manipulation, incomplete drainage of obstruction, or widely dilated duct systems should continue to receive appropriate
The area of controversy is whether patients with minimal or no bile duct dilatation undergoing simple procedures such as endoscopic
sphincterotomy and stone removal require antibiotics commencing before the procedure. A recent meta-analysis of studies examining
antibiotic prophylaxis prior to ERCP concluded that while it may reduce the instance of bacteremia, it did not substantially
reduce the incidence of clinical sepsis/cholangitis. One of the difficulties in deciding for or against antibiotic prophylaxis commencing before the procedure is
that the complexity and outcome of the procedure cannot always be accurately predicted.
Optimum benefit of antibiotics will only be obtained if therapeutic levels are present in the bile and tissues at the time
of examination. Patients should commence antibiotic prophylaxis intravenously at least 12 hours before the procedure. The common pathogenic organisms encountered in the biliary tree are Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella spp., E. coli, Bacteroides spp., and Enterococci.
Prophylactic antibiotic regimens for ERCP
Ciprofloxin oral 750 mg2 hours before procedure
IV 200 mg2 hours before procedure
Piperacillin + tazobactam
The reason for giving antibiotics needs to be clearly borne in mind. Is the risk simply of cholangitis or is there also a
significant risk of endocarditis because of valvular damage or other abnormalities? Cephalosporins and ureidopenicillins (e.g.
piperacillin) have very poor activity against enterococci and are generally considered inappropriate for endocarditis prophylaxis.
Principles of effective decontamination protocols
Cleaning is essential
The most important step in the process of endoscope decontamination is scrupulous manual cleaning prior to disinfection.
Manual cleaning refers to the physical task of removing secretions and contaminants from the endoscope with appropriate brushes,
cloths, detergents, and water. This is a two-stage process, beginning immediately upon removal of the endoscope from the patient
in the procedure room, and continuing once the instrument has been taken to the specific reprocessing area.
Automated industrial processes used for cleaning have yet to be shown to be effective in endoscope reprocessing. All instruments
currently need to be manually processed prior to chemical disinfection. It is desirable that in future automated systems be
developed which physically lift the soils present and then remove them by fluid flow.
In order for manual cleaning to be effective it must:
- Be performed by a person conversant with the structure of the particular endoscope and trained and certified in cleaning techniques.
- Be undertaken immediately after the endoscope is used so that secretions do not dry and harden.
- Follow a protocol which, using appropriate detergents and cleaning equipment, allows all surfaces of the endoscope, internal
and external, to be cleaned. Recommended protocols produced by respected authors are detailed in references .
- Be followed by thorough rinsing to ensure that all debris and detergents are removed prior to disinfection.
Effectiveness of recommended protocols
A standard for testing of cleaning efficacy in endoscope reprocessing procedures has not yet been developed. Several studies
have examined methods such as ATP bioluminescence in an endeavor to provide an accurate marker of cleanliness.
Recommended reprocessing protocols remove microbiological contamination. However, even minor deviations from cleaning protocols
have resulted in persistent microbiological contamination after disinfection. This emphasizes that present reprocessing techniques
are less than ideal and have a lower margin of safety than is desirable. It reinforces the need for all steps in reprocessing
protocols to be carried out meticulously.
There are at least 50 different models of flexible endoscopes available, with each manufacturer constantly expanding their
range. The manufacturer supplies an instruction book with each endoscope.
It is essential that every person responsible for endoscope decontamination reads these instruction books and is familiar
with the particular characteristics of each model of endoscope required to be cleaned.
All flexible fiberscopes have a light guide plug, an umbilical cable (cord), a control head, and an insertion tube.
- The light guide plug. The light guide plug fits into the light source. The air/water and suction channels have ports in the light guide plug. The light guide plug of a video endoscope is heavier than that
of a fiberscope and needs to be handled with care. Most light guide plugs have electrical connections that need to be sealed
by a protective cap prior to immersion in liquid.
- The umbilical cable/universal cord. The umbilical cable connects the light guide plug to the body of the endoscope. The external surface may be contaminated
by splashes or hand contact during endoscopic procedures.
- The control head. The control head contains the control handles, which allow the operator to flex the instrument and to access the suction
and air/water functions by use of valves. Fiberoptic endoscopes have an eyepiece on the control head. Video endoscopes are similar
in construction to fiberoptic endoscopes, except that they do not have an eyepiecethe image is seen on a video screen. The control head is contaminated during endoscopic procedures by the operator's hands.
The control handles have grooved surfaces, which must be carefully brushed during cleaning. The hollow structure of some control
handles should be noted and care taken to ensure that the undersurface is thoroughly rinsed and emptied of fluids. The seats
which house the suction and air/water valves (buttons) must be thoroughly cleaned. The biopsy channel port is located at the base of the control handle near
its junction with the insertion tube. This port must be brushed carefully during the cleaning process.
- The insertion tube. The insertion tube enters the patient's body and is grossly contaminated during the procedure. The distal tip of the insertion
tube houses the microchip (in video endoscopes), the openings for the suction and air/water channels, and the lens covering the flexible fiberoptic light guides. The section of the insertion tube adjacent to
the distal tip is known as the bending section. Its covering is made from soft flexible material and is particularly vulnerable
Common internal features
The suction and air/water channels and the fiberoptic light guide extend from the light guide plug to the distal tip. In non-video models an additional
fiberoptic bundle, the image guide, extends from the control head to the distal tip. Wire cables, which allow the tip to be
flexed, run through the insertion tube. Any damage to either the umbilical cable or the insertion tube can potentially damage
any of the internal structures. Care must be taken during cleaning procedures to ensure that the umbilical cable and insertion
tube do not become kinked or acutely bent. Kinks in biopsy channels trap debris and lead to failure of the cleaning process.
Suspected damage should be referred to the supplier for assessment and repair. A negative leakage test does NOT preclude damage to internal endoscope structures.
Special internal features
Most duodenoscopes have an additional channelthe forceps elevator (raiser) which is extremely fine (capacity 12 ml) and requires scrupulous attention during the cleaning process. Cleaning adaptors for this channel are provided with each
Some colonoscopes have a carbon dioxide (CO2) channel that may be connected to the air channel. Cleaning protocols must include flushing of this channel.
Jet (washing) channels are found in some endoscopes. These are contaminated during procedures and must be independently flushed
during cleaning, whether or not they have been used.
All endoscopes are supplied with appropriate cleaning adaptors. It is vital that persons cleaning endoscopes are conversant
with these adaptors and use them correctly. Rubber 'O' rings on the adaptors must be inspected regularly for defects or looseness and should be replaced as required.
Cleaning brushes for both channels and valve ports are also supplied. These have a limited life. They should be inspected
regularly and replaced when worn or kinked. Metal wear from abrasion by cleaning brushes and other endoscope accessories may
occur on the edge of the biopsy valve port or the suction button port.
Soft toothbrushes are useful to clean grooved control handles and to brush the distal tip and biopsy ports. Cotton buds may
be used to clean biopsy valve caps but should not be used in the air/water port as threads can become caught and cause blocked channels.
Adequate supplies of disposable cloths or swabs should be available.
The desirable properties of detergents include loosening of particulate and other soil and microorganisms so that they are
removed by the flushing process. Enzyme products promote protein lysis and enhance the efficacy of brushing and flushing and
are the preferred detergent. Where an enzyme product is not immediately available, a neutral instrument detergent can be used.
Household detergent is NOT suitable.
Manufacturers of enzymatic solutions report optimum efficacy when used in warm water. However, enzymes will continue to be
active in water that has cooled to room temperature (20°C). The use of hot water (> 60°C) denatures proteins, inactivating the enzyme, and may fix both the enzyme from the detergent and any protein soil onto the
instrument. Heavy contamination may exceed the enzyme capacity.
Rinsing should take place under running water so that all traces of detergent and disinfectant are flushed away. Failure to
adequately rinse glutaraldehyde from endoscopes has been reported to cause severe post colonoscopy colitis and may be responsible
for some cases of post-ERCP pancreatitis. Ortho-phthaldehyde [OPA] can cause marked skin staining in both patients and staff
if not thoroughly rinsed off equipment. In more severe cases blistering and skin necroses have occurred. Static rinsing, i.e.
rinsing in bowls of water, is not recommended.
The amount of water required to thoroughly rinse an endoscope after disinfection will vary according to the design and length
of the instrument and the chemical used for disinfection. Manufacturers' instructions for volume of rinse water should be
See also 'Problem areasrinsing water'.
Disinfectants for endoscope reprocessing need to have wide bacteriocidal properties, together with the ability to kill relevant
viruses including HIV, HBV, and HCV. Testing should have been conducted under clinical operating conditions as well as under
laboratory conditions. Many disinfectants have either a restricted spectrum of activity or have not been adequately tested.
Worldwide, glutaraldehyde is the most frequently used chemical disinfectant for use in unsealed systems. The most common formulation
used is 2% activated alkaline. Other products used include peracetic acid, hydrogen peroxide, chlorine dioxide, and ortho-phthalaldehyde.
Effective manual cleaning of the item to be soaked is critical in determining the effectiveness of chemical disinfection.
Endoscopes which are not adequately cleaned will not be adequately disinfected even with prolonged soaking times.
Chemical manufacturers are legally required to indicate disinfectant contact times on the product label. Many professional
organizations have published guidelines, which recommend a shorter soaking time. Those recommendations are based on evidence
that significantly less time is needed if the instrument has first been manually cleaned. Soaking times of 545 min for glutaraldehyde are common.
Other issues which effect soaking time include temperature and concentration of the disinfectant.
Staff required to chemically disinfect endoscopes must be provided with education in the safe use of hazardous chemicals,
and with personal protective clothing which includes impervious gowns (or gowns and plastic aprons), gloves which have been
approved for use with the specific chemical, and face shields.
Leak testing of endoscopes should be performed after use as per manufacturers' instructions. Failure to detect a leak prior
to thorough cleaning and disinfection may result in major damage to the instrument.
Examination of the instrument lens and outer sheath should be performed following each session to detect any signs of cracking
or damage. The function of angulation cables should be checked.
Inspection of 'O' rings on valves for signs of wear should be performed at the end of each session. 'O' rings should be changed when signs of wear are detected. Biopsy caps should be checked for signs of wear and replaced as
Lubrication is used to ensure optimal functioning of both endoscopes and accessories. The 'O' rings on suction and air/water control buttons require lubrication to prevent the buttons sticking in the depressed position. Traditionally silicone
oil supplied with the endoscope has been used. Silicone oils can be either petroleum based or in a water soluble base. There
is evidence that both preparations may impair reprocessing. Biological fluid can be entrapped within oil globules and protected
from disinfectant action. The choice is therefore to either take particular pains to ensure complete removal of silicone based
lubricants or to use surgical instrument lubricant.
- Accessory items processed in ultrasonic cleaners should be lubricated with an instrument lubricant following completion of
the ultrasonic cleaning. They should then be wiped with a clean, lint-free cloth and allowed to air dry prior to packaging
for steam sterilization.
- Where silicone oil lubricants are used for suction and air/water control buttons, they should be applied immediately before use (after chemical disinfection). It is essential to remove lubricant residue to allow germicide contact. Ultrasonic cleaning will
remove any small remaining amounts of lubricant.
Endoscopy should not be performed in centers where adequate facilities for cleaning and disinfection are not available.
Chemical disinfection must take place in an area with adequate physical controls such as forced air extraction. Soaking bowls
must have close fitting occlusive lids. Forced air extraction should extend to the rinsing sink.
Work areas should be planned carefully. The areas should be well ventilated and the reprocessing area should include the following:
- At least one sink designated for the cleaning of instruments, referred to as the 'dirty' sink. This should be made of materials which are impervious to chemicals. Suitable materials include stainless steel, porcelain,
or a plastic bonded material. The sink must be of sufficient dimensions to adequately hold a coiled full-length colonoscope
without causing the instrument damage. The sink should be supplied with hot and cold running water.
- An area adjacent to this sink where the components of the instrument are removed for cleaning. The 'dirty' bench is then suitable for holding instruments awaiting chemical disinfection.
- An area for disinfection of instruments. In the case of automated disinfectors the dimensions and requirements are determined
by the make and model of the machine to be installed. For manual disinfection, a chemical container of sufficient dimensions
to hold an instrument without damage to the instrument is required. It is preferable that this container be a fixed sink placed
under an appropriate fume extraction system. Otherwise a container especially designed for chemical disinfection of instruments
should be available. This must be placed in a fume extraction cupboard.
- Where an automated disinfector is used, rinsing is performed within the machine. Where manual rinsing occurs, a sink designated
for rinsing only clean instruments must be available and located within the fume extraction cover.
Disinfect before and after procedures
It is known that stored endoscopes may become colonized with vegetative bacteria during storage, especially if the drying
process is not adequate. Unfortunately the complex structure and fine channels of endoscopes preclude absolute certainty that
drying processes are always effective. Therefore endoscopes must have a full disinfection process performed prior to use on
At the end of a list, using 70% isopropyl alcohol to enhance the drying process, the endoscope must be thoroughly forced air
dried prior to storage. Methylated spirits is NOT suitable for this process.
The following steps should be performed immediately following a procedure.
- IMMEDIATELY after each procedure, with the endoscope still attached to the light source, grasp the control head. Using a disposable
cloth soaked in detergent solution, wipe the insertion tube from the control head to the distal tip. Discard cloth.
- Place distal tip in detergent solution. Aspirate through suction channeldepress and release suction button rapidly to promote debris dislodgement.
- Depress and release air/water button several times to flush water channel. Occlude air button to force air through the air channel.
- Some types of endoscope have an air/water channel cleaning button that should be placed in the air/water valve seat at this point as per manufacturer's instructions to flush both the air and water channels. If there is no
such adaptor, remove the water bottle connector from the endoscope, taking care not to contaminate its end. Drain the water
channel by occluding the water inlet on the endoscope light guide plug. The endoscope should be removed from the light source,
the waterproof cap should be placed over the electrical pins on the light guide plug, and the endoscope taken to the cleaning
area. (If, due to local circumstances, there is a delay prior to thorough cleaning, perform the leak test then place the endoscope
in a bowl of enzyme solution and soak.) It is essential that the endoscope is not allowed to dry prior to cleaning as this
will allow organic material to dry, making removal from channels difficult or impossible.
- Remove all valves and control buttons. Leak test the instrument as per manufacturer's instructions. WARNING: It is essential
that manufacturer's instructions be followed.
- Brush and clean valves and buttons, paying particular attention to internal surfaces. Place buttons in an ultrasonic cleaner.
- Place endoscope in enzymatic/detergent solution and using appropriate brushes provided by the manufacturer brush the suction/biopsy channel and the air/water channels if design permits. Particular attention needs to be given to ensuring that all sections of the channels have
been accessed. If the brush contains obvious debris it should be cleaned before being withdrawn. Each channel should be brushed
until all visible debris is removed. Wash all outer surfaces.
- Using a soft toothbrush, gently clean the distal tip of the endoscope.
- Brush control handles and biopsy port. Brush around valve seats.
- Clean valve seats thoroughlycheck that all visible debris has been removed. Use special brushes if provided by manufacturer.
- Fit cleaning adaptors. Thoroughly flush all channels with enzymatic solution, ensuring all air is removed from channels. Allow
solution to remain in contact for time required for the specific product.
- Rinse outer surfaces. Flush all channels thoroughly with fresh water. It is essential that all detergent be removed prior
- Purge channels with air to remove rinsing water.
- Disinfect as follows or machine reprocess as per specific machine instructions.
- After manual cleaning immerse endoscope in disinfectant so that the entire endoscope is submerged. Fill all channels with
disinfectant so that all air bubbles are expelled. All channel entrances must be under the surface of the disinfectant during
this procedure to ensure that no air enters the channel. Remove the buttons from the ultrasound, rinse, dry, and then immerse
buttons and valves in disinfectant or autoclave if applicable. It is preferable to have extra supplies of buttons and valves
to ensure that adequate cleaning is performed prior to immersion in disinfectant.
- Soak instrument for required time in disinfectant of choice. A timer with an alarm is essential to ensure that accurate soak
times are achieved. Digital timers are more accurate. A fluid thermometer with digital readout is recommended to constantly
monitor temperature of disinfectant solution.
- Purge disinfectant from all channels with air and remove endoscope, valves, and buttons from disinfectant, taking care to
avoid drips and splashes.
- Rinse exterior of endoscope thoroughly and flush channels with fresh water to remove traces of chemical. Rinse all valves
and buttons thoroughly.
- Purge all rinsing water from channels.
- If the instrument is being prepared for reuse, remove the cleaning adaptors. Dry exterior surfaces with a soft cloth, lubricate
'O' rings on buttons, and reassemble endoscope.
If the instrument is to be stored do not remove cleaning adaptors and refer to point 3.
At the end of the list
- Flush all channels with 70% isopropyl alcohol (approximately 2 ml for elevator channels, approximately 20 ml for each other channel). If using a multichannel cleaning adaptor the quantities of alcohol may need to be increased .
- Force air dry all channels. Ensure that the air source has a flow regulator and use lower pressure on fine channels. Use bayonet
fittings rather than luer lock to attach the air tubing to the cleaning adaptors and fit securely but not tightlyif safe pressure is exceeded the bayonet fitting will give way. Use of excessive air pressure may cause damage to the instrument
- Ensure that all outer surfaces are dry.
- Check the instrument for any sheath or lens damage. Polish the lens with the cleaner provided by the manufacturer. DO NOT
- Store endoscope (disassembled) in a well-ventilated storage cupboard, which permits full length hanging on appropriate support
structures. Endoscopes should not be stored in transport cases as these may themselves become contaminated.
- Store buttons and valves separately (not attached to endoscopes). 'O' rings on buttons and valves should only be lubricated following disinfection prior to use.
Endoscopic accessory equipment
The cleaning and disinfection of reusable endoscopic accessories is equally as important as that of the endoscope. Endoscopic
accessories have been implicated in the transmission of infection. As with endoscopes, the cleaning of accessories as a prerequisite
to sterilization is mandatory.
- All equipment should be immersed in enzymatic detergent immediately following use until cleaning can be performed.
- The equipment should be dismantled as far as possible and all visible soiling removed.
- Any spiral coil, hinged, or complex structured accessories should be placed in an ultrasonic cleaner and processed according
to manufacturers' recommendations. The ultrasound should be used with the lid in place to avoid dispersal of aerosols generated
as these may contain biological material.
- Any fine bore cannula or tubing accessory items will require thorough flushing with enzymatic detergent. Other accessory items,
depending on design, will require a combination of flushing and brushing to clean surfaces.
- Following cleaning by either of these methods, accessory items should be thoroughly rinsed and dried prior to disinfection,
autoclaving, or low temperature sterilization.
General accessory equipment used in gastroenterological procedures requires high-level disinfection. Accessories that enter
sterile tissue or the vascular system must be sterile. This includes biopsy forceps, injection sclerotherapy needles, and
all accessories used for ERCP. Where an alternative exists, all non-autoclavable reusable accessories should be phased out.
1. All autoclavable equipment must be cleaned thoroughly prior to sterilization process.
2. All non-autoclavable equipment should be immersed in disinfectant, ensuring all cavities are flushed with the fluid. The
soaking time will depend on whether the accessory item will be required to enter sterile tissue (see section on Sterilization
Special accessory items
Sclerotherapy needles are difficult to clean and reprocess to a sterile state and may provide an occupational hazard. Therefore
it is recommended that only single use sclerotherapy needles be used.
Water bottles and connectors
These accessory items should be autoclaved at the beginning and end of each session as they have been implicated in the transmission
of infection. All non-autoclavable bottles and connectors should be replaced with those that are fully autoclavable.
Dilators are likely to come in contact with tissue that has been abraded or otherwise damaged by the dilation process. They
should ideally be sterilized. They must at least have undergone high-level disinfection immediately before the session. Note
the operative field will not be sterile as the patient's own microbiological flora will contaminate the area.
Problem areas in endoscope reprocessing
Poor quality water
The endoscope may well become colonized with significant pathogens after appropriate cleaning and high-level disinfection
if the rinsing water itself is contaminated. Pseudomonas spp., atypical mycobacteria, Legionella spp., cryptosporidia, and a variety of other organisms are frequent contaminants of hospital tap water. The microbiological
quality of water varies dramatically from country to country. Surprisingly it may vary widely even within the same city dependent
upon a variety of local factors. Municipal water quality varies with the age and condition of water mains. Local hospital
factors will include the age and extent of plumbing alterations. 'Dead runs' are particularly important. A temperature of at least 55°C at the point of use is necessary to minimize the growth of organisms in the hot water supply. Contaminants other than microbiological
agents may also affect the quality of delivered water. High sediment levels may block filters quickly.
Infections from rinsing water
Organisms introduced into the endoscope by the rinsing water may colonize the instrument and be transferred to patients subsequently
examined with the endoscope. The greatest clinical risk has proved to be the transfer of pseudomonas to patients at the time
of ERCP. However, many organisms found in the water supply may pose significant clinical hazards to immunocompromised patients.
The problem of contamination of AFERs is considered in more detail in that section. Atypical mycobacterial contamination of
bronchoscopes has caused epidemics of pseudo-infection with significant clinical consequences to patients .
Bacteria free water
Bronchoscopes and duodenoscopes should therefore be rinsed in bacteria free water. This may be prohibitively expensive for
gastroscopes and colonoscopes but substantially bacteria-free water should be used. Unfortunately this is more difficult to
achieve than first appears . Adequate water filtration is both technically challenging and expensive. A filter bank (usually four) of decreasing mesh
size down to a final filter of 0.2 microns is required. There must be a mechanism whereby the filters can be treated to remove
microbiological contamination. The way in which this can be achieved will depend on a variety of circumstances including the
particular filters, the available water pressure, and the quality of the water both in terms of sediment and microbiological
content. In general it is best to have a closed loop arrangement with shut off valves on the input and output side of the
filters. Access ports on the filter side of these shut off valves allow circulation of sterilants through the filter bank
(note some filters will be damaged by reverse circulation). Agents used to treat the filter bank have included hot water,
chlorine releasing agents, and glutaraldehyde. It is important to ensure that the agent used is compatible with the particular
filters. Filters should be changed regularly and sent for microbiological examination at the time of replacement. It is important
not to assume that 0.2 micron filters will be failsafe. Excessive water pressure, excess sediment, gross bacteriological contamination,
etc. may all result in bacteria translocating through filter defects. Hospitals with high quality water may not have any problems.
Others, presumably with lesser water quality, have reported almost insurmountable difficulties requiring overnight sterilization
of filters on a daily basis together with frequent filter replacement.
The bacteriological quality of the rinse water available should be tested. Microbiological monitoring should be undertaken
in liaison with the local microbiology laboratory. The tap mouth should be flamed to eliminate surface gram negatives (although
these in themselves may constitute a significant finding) and a minimum of a litre of tap water collected. Bacteriological
quality of tap water should be monitored at least yearly and after any known plumbing alterations at the hospital or unit.
More frequent sampling may be appropriate where the tap water has previously been found to be contaminated, where the institution
has old plumbing, and in hotter climates.
Recommendations for rinsing water
- Duodenoscopes and bronchoscopes must always use sterile or 0.2 micron filtered water for rinsing.
- The bacteriological quality of the unit tap water should be monitored.
- Bacteriological filtering with 0.2 micron final filters is recommended for rinsing when poor water quality exists.
- Filter banks must be serviced and bacteriologically monitored on a regular basis.
- ALL endoscopes should have a final alcohol rinse followed by forced air drying at the end of procedure lists.
- Particular problems of AFERs are considered separately.
Variation in cleaning and disinfection regimens depending upon the supposed infective status of the patient
A number of surveys have shown that the practice of varying the cleaning and disinfection regimen according to the supposed
infective status of the patient is widespread, with hospitals changing their reprocessing techniques after use in patients
with known HIV infection, tuberculosis, or hepatitis . There is clear evidence to show that the cleaning and disinfection schedule recommended in this review is adequate to prevent
the transmission of infectious disorders including HIV infection, hepatitis, and tuberculosis [9,20,21]. There is therefore NO JUSTIFICATION to alter the cleaning and disinfection regimen if patients are known to have these disorders.
(The problems associated with prion disease are considered separately.)
Compliance with cleaning and disinfection protocols
Investigation of clinical infections related to endoscopic procedures has almost invariably shown that there has been a breach
of recommended cleaning and disinfection protocol. In a few cases it has not been possible to determine the reason for the
infection. In at least one incident (hepatitis C transmission) the suspicion has fallen on the anesthetic technique . Practice surveys in the past have shown poor compliance with recommended protocols. Raymond  in 1990 found that 73% of all units surveyed in France had serious protocol deficiencies. A study in the United States in
1992 showed 40% of units surveyed had unsatisfactory aspects in their reprocessing protocols . Even worse compliance has been reported from a variety of other countries. Fortunately there is evidence of a substantial
improvement in recent years. Surveys in the United States in 1998  and 1999  showed major improvements. Concerns remain with a small percentage of respondents reprocessing biopsy forceps and other critical
items by glutaraldehyde disinfection rather than sterilization. Other concerns include rinsing water quality, persisting variation
in reprocessing regimens depending on the patient's perceived infective status, and reuse of disposable items.
The investigation of possible endoscopy infection transmission incidents
Investigation may be necessary because of internal recognition of an equipment or protocol failure. Alternatively, a complaint
may be initiated by a patient or external agency.
Common causes requiring incident investigation include:
- Self-recognition of protocol errors, e.g. failure to recognize and clean jet channels.
- Pump or other mechanical failure on AFERs without adequate alarm systems.
- Bacterial colonization of AFERs.
- Improper use of chemical disinfectants.
Golden rules for investigating potential infection incidents
The golden rules for any unit involved in investigation of a potential infection transmission incident are:
- Inform the appropriate authority immediately.
- Do not try to avoid investigation and do not undertake investigation of patient complaints yourself.
- Do not argue with or suggest alternative possible sources of infection transmission to complainants.
- Ensure that the information listed above is readily available to the investigating authority.
The appropriate regulatory authority should be notified of any incident. Authorities commonly allow in-house investigation
of self-recognized low-risk protocol failures. Investigation of patient complaints, and serious and potentially serious self-recognized
incidents, must be conducted at arms length by an appropriate regulatory authority.
The investigation process
The exact process of investigation will depend upon the particular incident but in general the regulatory authority will:
- Inspect the premises to ensure that there is compliance with registration, licensing, and credentialing requirements.
- Ensure that medical and nursing staff are qualified and have acceptable continuing education processes.
- Ensure that endoscopic equipment, endoscope accessories, reprocessing, and safety equipment are appropriate.
- Ensure that internationally accepted endoscope and accessory reprocessing protocols are used  and protocol compliance is documented.
- Ensure that bacteriological surveillance programs exist.
- Identify involved and at risk patients, endoscopes, accessories, and reprocessing equipment.
- Examine anesthetic procedures.
- Contact affected and at risk patients for serological sampling (e.g. HIV, HCV, HBV) or other appropriate investigations (e.g.
sputum samples if tuberculosis transmission is a possibility).
Transmission of viral disease
There is no current evidence that serious viral diseases such as HIV, HBV, or HCV have been transmitted from patient to patient
by endoscopy if all aspects of internationally accepted endoscope reprocessing protocols have been followed .
Automatic flexible endoscope reprocessors (AFERs)
AFERs are widely used in the western world. American surveys in 1998 and 1999 showed around 70% utilization of AFERs [57,58]. These machines certainly reduce unpopular, arduous, repetitive tasks and reduce occupational exposure to irritant chemicals.
Unfortunately AFERs have also been responsible for many serious clinical infections including deaths and epidemics of pseudo-infection
[8,10,5962]. The enthusiastic and largely uncritical acceptance of AFERs may owe more to their convenience than to clinical safety. There
are numerous AFER models of widely varying quality, durability, and effectiveness.
Perceived advantages of AFERs include:
- Standardization of endoscopic reprocessing.
- Reduced exposure of staff to chemicals.
- Reduction of staff time spent on disinfection.
None of the currently available machines negate the need for thorough manual cleaning. This is an essential prerequisite to
disinfection. Any claim that manual precleaning is unnecessary should be carefully scrutinized and not accepted unless it
has been published in respected peer reviewed journals. Working parties are currently developing standards for AFERs under
the European Committee for Standardization and the International Standards Organization. When completed, parts 1 and 4 of
these documents will provide a reasonable international standard for machines.
Machine design and principles
AFERs will rarely show contamination when new. Unfortunately this is when most AFERs are trialed. Problems with bacterial
contamination rarely become apparent in machines before 6 months of use and become progressively more likely with ongoing
use of machines and endoscopes. Increasing wear and age reveal unsuspected defects. Biofilms, valve failure, surface irregularities,
fissuring, filter failures, and chemical familiarity all offer colonization opportunities for ever vigilant bacteria.
Machines should be plumbed into the water supply rather than be filled manually. Pre-filters are necessary. Filter systems
must be regularly serviced and monitored. It is all too easy for filters themselves to become a major source of contamination
(see section on Rinsing Water).
The principal function of AFERs is to pump liquids through endoscope channels. Alarm functions to detect pump failure on all
channels are essential.
AFERs should have an effective self-sterilization cycle. Most AFERs claim to have one but manydo not stand up to rigorous
The extraction of disinfectant fumes from within the machine should occur prior to completion of the operating cycle and prior
to opening the machine. If this is not possible the machine must be contained within a fume extraction hood.
Machines which use a concentrated solution and in-use dilution for a single cycle (e.g. STERIS system) avoid the problem of
dilution of the disinfectant with rinsing water. Machines which contain a tank of disinfectant for reuse should be monitored
for disinfection concentration to determine appropriate disinfectant change schedules. Machines which require the filling
of a disinfectant reservoir must incorporate a pump mechanism to obviate the need for pouring chemical sterilants into the
AFERs add significantly to endoscope reprocessing time.
AFERs cannot guarantee to sterilize endoscopes
AFERs cannot guarantee to sterilize endoscopes despite some manufacturers' claims to the contrary. Remember that, unless adequate
cleaning has taken place, endoscopes will remain seriously contaminated and have caused serious clinical infections including
death, despite being subjected to 'sterilizing processes' including ethylene oxide and peracetic acid exposure.
AFERs may increase reprocessing costs significantly. Real cost analysis should include the cost of purchase of the machines,
extra endoscopes, machine service cost, and filtration costs. With poor quality water supply filtration costs can be extremely
Plumbing pathway diagrams must be factual and not schematic. Careful evaluation of plumbing pathways is essential to determine
if claimed self-sterilization cycles are to amount to anything more than wishful thinking.
Rinse and dry cycle
AFERs must have a terminal bacteria-free water rinse followed by 70% alcohol and air-drying cycle for use at the end of each
list. If such a cycle is not part of the AFER's features it must be carried out manually prior to storage of each endoscope.
Regular bacteriological surveillance
Regular bacteriological surveillance of AFERs is essential. Specimens are usually best collected by pumping not less than
1 litre of water through filters placed in line at the point of endoscope connection and culturing the filters.
Quality control in endoscope reprocessing
Reliable quality control systems are an integral part of any manufacturing or service process. Clinical medicine has been
slow to embrace adequate quality control systems and endoscope reprocessing protocols have been particularly deficient. Given
the complexity of endoscope construction, the difficulty of ensuring adequate cleaning, and the relatively low safety margin
of chemical disinfectants used, formal quality control measures are essential. Automated systems which reduce human error,
together with automatic recording of essential parameters and alarm systems are highly desirable.
Unfortunately endoscope cleaning remains a manual process. Education and certification of those cleaning endoscopes currently
remains the most practical quality assurance process.
Disinfection, however, lends itself to automation and process monitoring. Regrettably the number of serious clinical infections
associated with AFERs shows that current systems remain far from ideal.
Quality control measures
Quality control measures in endoscope reprocessing should include:
- Appropriate education, examination, and certification of staff reprocessing endoscopes.
- Proof of compliance with internationally accepted endoscope and accessory reprocessing protocols .
- A record system which documents measurable reprocessing parameters. Where manual disinfection is employed this will include
disinfection concentration, temperature, immersion time, etc.; for AFERs it will mean documentation of adequate cycle completion.
It is essential that the unit has a clear system which links the particular endoscope with the patient examined, the patient's
position on the list, the endoscope cleaner, and the person and/or machine involved in disinfection. A clear and reliable linkage system is essential in investigating possible infection
- Accessories which breach sterile surfaces and are difficult to reprocess by a clearly validated sterilizing system should
be single use only, e.g. sclerotherapy needles. Accessories which breach sterile surfaces but are not labeled for single use
only and can be reprocessed by a validated reliable method such as steam sterilization need not be individually traceable.
Accessories which breach sterile surfaces and are labeled 'for single use only' require an institutionally validated reprocessing protocol and must be individually traceable. In some countries, particularly
the United States of America, institutionally validated reprocessing protocols will be extremely onerous .
- A formal system for equipment servicing, maintenance, and replacement. This must include endoscopes and accessories, AFERs,
ultrasonic cleaners, and water filtration systems.
- A regular bacteriological surveillance program of endoscopes, AFERs, and water quality.
- It is desirable that each unit has some outcome auditing process, which should include at least intermittent infection detection
Microbiological surveillance in endoscopy
Microbiological surveillance of endoscopes, hospital water supply, water filtration systems, and AFERs is strongly recommended.
The area remains controversial because of sampling difficulties, lack of methodological validation, and difficulty interpreting
culture results. These criticisms have a degree of validity and highlight the need for supporting methodological evidence.
They do not, however, remove the need for bacteriological surveillance, which remains an important indirect validation of
reprocessing protocols, provides evidence of internal endoscope damage which may be otherwise undetectable, and allows the
early detection of colonization of filtration systems and AFERs.
Deva et al.  have shown that the absence of bacterial contamination is an accurate reflection of viral elimination during reprocessing.
Thus viral cultures are not performed for surveillance purposes.
There can be little serious argument against bacteriological surveillance of duodenoscopes. Serious clinical infections, usually
with Pseudomonas aeruginosa or related species, occurred after ERCP in significant numbers in the past and continue to be reported. Endoscopists have
frequently failed to recognize the endoscopic causation of these infections. As a result, errors in reprocessing protocols,
internal endoscope damage, and colonization of AFERs have all failed early detection.
Failure to detect AFER colonization with atypical mycobacteria has led to a number of epidemics of pseudo-infection in patients
undergoing bronchoscopy. (See also section on Pseudomonas.)
- Hospital water supply: Endoscopy Unit water supply should be examined on at least a yearly basis, more frequently where there
is evidence or recent plumbing alterations.
- Water filters: Water filters should be sent for microbiological examination when there are problems of machine filter contamination
or known high contamination levels of the hospital water supply.
- Duodenoscopes and bronchoscopes: These should be monitored at least monthly.
- AFERs: AFERs should be monitored on a monthly basis or more frequently if there have been previous colonization problems.
- Gastroscopes and colonoscopes: These should be monitored 4-monthly depending on instrument age, previous positive culture
results, or if other bacteriological surveillance (e.g. AFERs, water filters, etc.) has shown evidence of contamination.
Assessment should focus on the acceptability of the total number of organisms detected. Detailed taxonomic identification
is not indicated except where microbiological failure persists after a rigorous review of compliance with cleaning and disinfection
protocols and the structural soundness of the endoscope involved. Cultures should be directed to the detection of common enteric
or respiratory organisms and organisms which are known to be associated with AFERs and filter contamination. The most important
pathogens include Pseudomonas spp., Klebsiella spp., Proteus spp., E. coli, Salmonella spp., and atypical Mycobacterium spp. Consultation with a clinical microbiologist familiar with the endemic hospital pathogens is essential. Samples should
be collected in an aseptic manner. The exact technique may vary with individual microbiological laboratories. In general,
the most important sample collection from endoscopes is to fill the biopsy channel with sterile water, and brush it vigorously
with a sterile channel cleaning brush which should then be agitated in sterile water in a specimen container. After brush
removal, flush some sterile water down the channel. Brushing is not possible for all channels of some endoscopes. It is essential
to ensure that specimens reach the laboratory without delay following collection.
Interpretation of cultures
Workplace discussions reveal that one of the common but unvoiced reasons for resistance to bacteriological surveillance is
the anxiety engendered by positive culture results. It has to be stressed that the finding of a few bacteria on bacteriological
surveillance of an endoscope is not an infection transmission event and does not require patient infection detection protocols
to be activated. It is essential to discuss positive culture findings with a clinical microbiologist and to look at the pattern
of results from all endoscopes. Some interpretation examples include:
- A light growth of staphylococcus from a single instrument on a single occasion: This is almost certainly an environmental
contaminant occurring during sample collection.
- Any growth of Pseudomonas spp. from a duodenoscope: This is cause for immediate withdrawal of that instrument. Full investigation of the possible source
of contamination and activation of patient infection detection protocols for recent patients undergoing ERCP with that instrument.
- Light mixed growth of fecal organisms from different instruments over a period of time: Almost certainly reflects inadequate
reprocessing procedures within the unit which need to be traced to either single or multiple staff members and corrective
- A heavy growth of salmonella from a colonoscope: Either inadequate reprocessing or internal instrument damage. The instrument
should be withdrawn and carefully inspected by the manufacturer.
- Moderate growth of atypical mycobacteria from bronchoscope: Likely to be AFER or instrument accessory colonization. Clinicians
should be notified that recently bronchoscoped patients may have specimens falsely interpreted as showing atypical mycobacterial
- Growth of Mycobacterium tuberculosis from a bronchoscope: Immediate withdrawal of instrument. Full investigation of cause of contamination and activation of infection
detection protocols for patients recently bronchoscoped with that instrument.
Microbiological surveillance of AFERs
The method of sample collection for automatic disinfectors will vary depending upon the design of the individual machine.
It is therefore appropriate to seek advice from the manufacturer and/or consult with the hospital clinical microbiologist. Common sense would suggest that the most appropriate point for machine
sampling is the attachment of the machine to the endoscope. For machines with a single point of attachment (e.g. Medivator)
this is relatively simple. Where there are multiple endoscope connections the process becomes more complicated. It is essential
to know the design of the machine to determine which is the optimum part of the cycle in which to collect samples. In most
cases this will be in the rinsing cycle.
Early detection of machine contamination is best effected by a concentration process. A sterile sealed filter (e.g. Millipore
filter) is connected to the outlet of the machine where it normally attaches to the endoscope and a minimum of 200 ml of fluid is cycled through the filter in the rinse cycle mode. The disc can then be removed and plated directly. Since
the principal contaminants of automatic disinfectors are Pseudomonas and related species and various forms of atypical mycobacteria, cultures should be particularly directed towards these organisms.
Outstanding issues and future trends
Serious infections associated with endoscopy are almost invariably due to failure to follow recognized guidelines for endoscope
reprocessing or prophylactic antibiotic administration. Even minor deviations from accepted cleaning protocols results in
persistent microbiological contamination of endoscopes after attempted high-level disinfection or sterilization. Present reprocessing
techniques therefore have a lower margin of safety than is desirable. In the short term the emphasis must be to ensure that
all staff involved in endoscope reprocessing have been adequately trained and assessed. Quality control systems must be fully
implemented, including microbiological surveillance of all endoscopes. Endoscopes and AFER manufacturers and distributors
must develop more responsible attitudes. There is a growing concern that companies fail to disseminate information on real
or potential product defects. Restricting product warnings to known purchasers of individual instruments is quite inadequate,
not least because such devices may have been on-sold or transferred to other hospitals with health care networks.
Currently there is widespread lack of recognition of the difficulties in providing rinse water of adequate quality. More effective
education about the problems of biofilms and filter difficulties is urgently required.
AFER design and function continue to rapidly improve. However, few if any current machines can claim to have adequate self-sterilization
cycles which involve all necessary parts of the machine, individual flow alarms on all channels, and reliable sterile water
for rinsing cycles. Manufacturers clearly have ample scope for further improvement. The AFER manufacturer who can develop
a machine with the above qualities combined with an automated adequate and reliable cleaning system will have instant command
of the market.
The inherent complexity of endoscope design together with the clinical requirements for flexibility are often inadequately
understood. The aim must be to develop endoscopes and accessories whose sterility can be guaranteed. Despite claims to the
contrary we are still a long way from this goal.
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