Over 2,000 former patients who have had open heart surgery at the London Health Sciences Centre are being notified about a low risk of bacterial infection related to medical equipment.
Heater-cooler units used to heat and cool blood during open heart surgery have been linked to Mycobacterium chimaera infection, according to safety alerts issued to hospitals across North America by Health Canada and Public Health Ontario as well as the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States.
“It turns out that these heater-cooler units were probably contaminated at the factory where they were manufactured,” said Dr. Michael John, director, infection prevention and control at LHSC.
The machines the LHSC has were acquired after the problem had been identified and the manufacturer had decontaminated their plant. However, Dr. John says there was a two-month period of time in 2014 when the LHSC was using the machines on a trial basis.
“There have been less than 50 cases reported in the United States when these machines have literally been used in hundreds of thousands of surgeries, but one of the complicating factors is that it can take a couple of years for the infection to actually declare itself.”
The London Health Sciences Centre has mailed letters to 2,200 patients notifying them of the potential risk.
“Thankfully, the risk of infection is less than one per cent and the risks of not having the surgery far outweigh the risk of infection,” said Dr. John.
“We took immediate steps to update all of our protocols for the device based on new recommendations and we are not aware of any patients who have developed this infection following open heart surgery at LHSC to date.”
According to the LHSC, the symptoms include:
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Weight loss
- Unexplained fever and redness, heat, or pus around the sternal surgical incision.
Patients with any symptoms or who have been diagnosed with sarcoidosis since their heart surgery are being advised to contact their family doctor. Patients can also contact the hospital at 1-844-358-1050 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.
The LHSC says officials are monitoring the situation very closely and will continue to follow Health Canada’s direction related to the use of heater-cooler units.