Nosocomial infections from contaminated endoscopes: a flawed automated endoscope washer. An investigation using molecular epidemiology

Am J Med. 1991 Sep 16;91(3B):272S-280S. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(91)90381-7.


Approximately 1 year after purchase of one manufacturer's automated endoscope washing machine, we began to detect heavy contamination of upper gastrointestinal (UGI) endoscopes cultured after cleaning and disinfection in the washer. During the first 6 months of 1988, 77% of surveillance cultures (20-mL flush through the biopsy channel) were positive for gram-negative bacilli (median concentration, 10(5) cfu/mL), most frequently Pseudomonas aeruginosa serotype 10. During the first 19 months of use of the washer, nosocomial post-UGI endoscopy colonization or infections with P. aeruginosa increased 36%. Investigations show that endoscope contamination derives from a flaw in the design of the EW-10 washer: the detergent holding tank, inlet water hose, and air vents cannot be reliably disinfected and contain heavy biofilms that recontaminate the machine after it has been disinfected, as specified by the manufacturer, with glutaraldehyde. Only by rinsing machine-cleansed endoscopes with 70% alcohol followed by forced air drying has reliable disinfection been achieved. Since adaptation of terminal alcohol treatment and drying, post-UGI endoscopy colonization or infection by P. aeruginosa has declined threefold (p less than 0.001). Testing in other centers using the manufacturer's EW-10 or EW-20 washer has shown similar contamination. In three centers, including our own, postendoscopy infections by machine-associated type 10 P. aeruginosa have been confirmed by demonstrating concordance between isolates from contaminated machines or endoscopes and from infected patients by immunoblot of whole cell lysates and by pulsed-field electrophoresis of DraI endonuclease-digested genomic DNA. This problem reaffirms the vulnerability to microbial contamination of water-containing apparatus and equipment in patient care and points up the critical importance of engineering design to prevent contamination.

MeSH terms

  • Cross Infection / etiology*
  • Cross Infection / microbiology
  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • Disinfection / instrumentation*
  • Disinfection / methods
  • Electrophoresis, Gel, Pulsed-Field
  • Endoscopy, Gastrointestinal / adverse effects*
  • Equipment Contamination*
  • Humans
  • Pseudomonas Infections / etiology*
  • Pseudomonas Infections / microbiology
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / classification
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / isolation & purification


  • DNA, Viral