Having a ‘harmless’ ultrasound? Beware of serious infections

by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor

(NaturalNews) Unlike when you have an x-ray or CT scan, you are not exposed to  ionizing radiation exposure when you have an ultrasound test. Instead, the  ultrasound machine creates images using high-frequency sound waves which reflect  off body structures to create images of various parts of the body. Ultrasounds  are very common and are used for examining breasts, unborn babies, arms and  legs, hearts, ovaries and more.

A transducer (handheld probe) slides over  the area being examined and the whole test is painless. Sounds harmless, right?  Not necessarily.

While some people have raised questions about the  high-frequency sounds damaging fetuses, now there is another concern. It turns  out that reports are accumulating that show the clear, water-based conducting  gel that’s applied to the skin so the transducer will slide easily can be  contaminated with bacteria that can cause life-threatening illnesses.

In  the upcoming December issue of Infection Control and Hospital  Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of  America, guidelines are being proposed by epidemiologists from Beaumont  Health System in hopes of reducing the risk of infection from contaminated gels.  The recommendations are based on the authors’ firsthand experiences with an  outbreak of Pseudomonas aeruginosa that was traced to ultrasound transmission  gel contaminated with this bacteria. Pseudomonas aeruginosa can cause serious  infections, including pneumonia, urinary tract infections  and bacteremia (spread of the bacteria to the bloodstream). It is especially  dangerous in patients with compromised immune systems. And it can be  fatal.

In December of 2011, researchers discovered an unusual cluster of  Pseudomonas aeruginosa in a cardiovascular surgery intensive care unit during  routine infection control surveillance. The outbreak was tracked down to bottles  of ultrasound  transmission gel that were contaminated during the manufacturing process and  that were being used for intraoperative transesophageal echocardiography. This  information eventually resulted in a national recall of the  product.

Unfortunately, it turns out that this wasn’t a one-time fluke  that can be blamed on a sloppy manufacturer. An investigation found these gels  can actually serve as mediums for bacterial growth. Additional studies have now  shown contaminated gels were source of other outbreaks of infection in the last  20 years.

“After our investigation of the Pseudomonas outbreak last year  linked the source of the outbreak to contaminated ultrasound gel, we were  surprised to find that very little guidance is available on appropriate uses for  different ultrasound gel products,” said Susan Oleszkowicz, MPH, lead author of  the paper, in a statement to the media.

The new proposed guidelines for  recommended uses of ultrasound transmission gels call on manufacturers of  ultrasound gel and professional societies to take an active role in developing  recommendations for appropriate and intended use of these products. The  guidelines specifically point out the critical need for sterile, single-dose  ultrasound gel in any invasive procedure or procedures involving non-intact skin  or fresh surgical wounds and the fact that sterile, single-dose ultrasound gel  should be used with newborns or critically ill children. The authors also state  that multi-dose, non-sterile gel can still be used on intact skin, but  potentially contaminated containers should be sealed appropriately when not in  use, and replaced when empty, not simply  refilled.

Sources:

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-11/sfhe-uga111212.php
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23087918
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003336.htm
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17482933

About  the author:
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has  appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga  Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today,  Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI,  UCLA’s “Healthy Years” newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s “Focus on  Health Aging” newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s “Men’s Health Advisor”  newsletter and many others.

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