Hospitals alerting patients of infection risk

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Heart surgery patients across the nation are finding out they could have been exposed to infection-causing bacteria.

The source is a specific machine used at hospitals during bypass procedures.

According to the CDC, the risk of infection is relatively low, but there is enough of a risk linked to a specific machine that area hospitals are now alerting patients.

The machine is called the “Stöckert 3T Heater-Cooler Device.”

“The machine circulates cold water that keeps the heart cool during the operation so that it’s not damaged,” CDC Deputy Director of the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion Dr. Michael Bell said.

According to a CDC investigation, a manufacturing error could make that device more likely to spread bacteria, which is already a risk for heater-coolers.

“The fan on the heater-cooler unit machine is able to blow bacteria from inside the machine into the operating room,” Bell said, “The problem with that is that if those bacteria land on a heart valve that’s about to be implanted or into the surgical wound, there’s a possibility of it causing an infection.”

The infection is called a nontuberculous mycobacterium (NTM) infection.

That’s the risk thousands of Hoosier heart bypass patients are learning about in letters from hospitals.

The VA Medical Center, IU Health, and Franciscan Health hospitals are among those alerting patients.

According to the CDC, patients whose surgeries were recent need to pay attention.

“If you’re a couple years out from your operation and aren’t having any kind of symptoms, then you don’t need to worry about this particular issue,” Bell said.

But if you’re having symptoms like night sweats, weight loss, fatigue, and loss of appetite, see your doctor right away.

The infection could take months to treat with antibiotics and in rare cases, it is deadly.

Many of the hospitals have set up hotlines for patients who’ve been affected.

Any person who could have been exposed should receive a letter from their hospital with a number to call and instructions.

Their primary doctor should also received notification from the hospital.

Here’s a statement from IU Health.

Four IU Health hospitals used this device – IU Health Methodist, University, Arnett and Bloomington. We are complying with the CDC’s recommendation for hospitals across the United States and are in the process of notifying approximately 6,500 patients (to be completed by mid-January), who received open heart surgery from 2012 until recently. We have had no reported cases of the infection, and our physicians are aware of the situation as they provide patient care.

Here’s a statement from Franciscan Health:

A device used to heat and cool the blood during open heart surgery was investigated by the FDA and CDC and was found to have been linked to a potential risk to patients from a rare bacterial infection caused by a type of bacteria known as nontuberculous mycobacterium (NTM).

According to the CDC, for patients who have had one of these surgeries using this device, the chances of getting this infection are very low. CDC estimates the risk to be less than 1 percent. This infection cannot be spread person-to-person.

Like many other hospitals across the United States, Franciscan Health hospitals in Indianapolis, Crown Point and Lafayette had used the device. Franciscan Health contacted patients who may have been at risk and provided them with information and a toll-free number to call should they have any questions. The patients’ physicians also were notified.


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