Heart Surgery Infection: Heater/Cooler Infections Found in Canada

Two major Canadian hospitals have begun the process of notifying thousands of their patients who have undergone open-heart surgery since 2012 of the possible risk of contracting non-tuberculosis mycobacteria (NTM) from heater-cooler devices that are used to control a patient’s blood temperature during surgery.

The two hospitals, Montreal’s Heart Institute and the St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg have notified over 12,000 patients of their potential exposure to the bacteria. Another hospital in Quebec has identified two patients that have contracted the bacteria.

At present, no testing or screening is in place to determine if a patient who has undergone open-heart surgery has been exposed to the bacteria during surgery. The infection can only be detected once the symptoms associated with NTM begin to develop. In many cases, the symptoms may take up to 4 years before the infection becomes apparent.

In the United States, the Centre for Disease Control issued a study which showed nearly half of the patients exposed to NTM had died as a result of the infection. The high death rate is attributed to the lengthy delay for the symptoms to manifest.

Health Canada have previously issued an advisory concerning the use of the heater/cooler device and has updated its website to include a list of symptoms associated with the infection. High fever, sweating at night, aches in joints, aches in muscles, general fatigue, loss of weight and inflammation of the area where the surgical incision was made have all been identified as problems associated with the bacterial infection. Health Canada advises that any patient who has undergone open-heart surgery since 2012 should undergo a full blood test if they have any of the symptoms that are related to exposure of NTM.

It is expected that in addition to the hospitals in Montreal and Winnipeg, other hospitals where open-heart surgical procedures are performed may similarly advise its patients of the risk that they may have contracted NTM.

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