The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread from contact with infected surfaces or objects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Given the heightened fears around this virus, it is ever more crucial to ensure patient safety with increased focus on reprocessing reusable medical devices that encounter the respiratory system, like flexible bronchoscopes and laryngoscopes.

Flexible endoscopes have been known to harbor dangerous organisms and be the source of medical device-related disease transmission. Infection following bronchoscopy is considered rare, given that roughly a half million bronchoscopies are performed annually with very minimal numbers of reported disease outbreaks, but some experts believe that number to be underreported given a lack of surveillance.

The fact remains that flexible endoscopes have been linked back to numerous disease outbreaks, including those caused by antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.

In a recent column for MedTech Intelligence, Dr. Ryan Lewis, the senior director of medical affairs at Advanced Sterilization Products, argues that hospitals can mitigate the spread of disease with more attention and support for reprocessing procedures.

During an outbreak, Lewis writes, it’s “critical” to treat reusable medical devices as potential sources of transmission. Not strictly adhering to reprocessing guidelines can put hospitalized, and already vulnerable, members of the population at increased risk of contracting another disease.

In the wake of the first reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., the FDA began to release information regarding medical device availability (as many medical devices are made in China) and the importance of hospitals having enough respirators and personal protective equipment available for healthcare staff.

Lewis writes that hospitals also need to be more vigilant about following reprocessing guidelines to further prevent the spread of disease. This means providing infection control and reprocessing departments the time they need to adequately reprocess these instruments, despite what might be a period of increased demand.

“Fatigue, inexperience and other pressures on staff can lead to workarounds in efforts to reprocess medical devices, such as omitting steps in a procedure, inattention, incorrect data entry, improper use of personal protective equipment, or other practices that are not validated or do not conform to manufacturers’ instructions for use,” he adds. “Not following standard methods for sterilization puts patients, healthcare providers and reprocessing staff at risk of infection or injury.”

Bronchoscopes and laryngoscopes may be in greater demand during a disease outbreak, which could cause increased wear and tear on the instruments. Reprocessing staff should also be extra vigilant about ensuring the instruments are working properly, according to Lewis.

The CDC confirmed 60 cases of COVID-19 from 12 states as of noon on Tuesday, March 3. As of that time, the source of exposure for 27 of those cases was still under investigation.

The CDC is expecting the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. to rise as testing becomes more widely available. While many cases are reported as mild, a Chinese report released in February estimates that 16 percent of COVID-19 cases will lead to serious illness.

Another alternative to consider helping prevent against cross-contamination from medical devices is to use sterile, single-use equipment whenever possible. Ambu’s aScope 4 Broncho offers a sterile, no-hassle solution to mitigating the risk of cross contamination when fears about spreading disease are heightened.