Medical devices used in open heart surgery could pose infection risk

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Horizon Health Network and the New Brunswick Heart Centre are notifying open heart surgery patients about a potential risk related to their surgery.

Although the risk is very low, patients who had open heart surgery at the heart centre in the Saint John Regional Hospital between November 2012 and November 2016 are being warned about a one-in-1,000 risk of infection related to their surgery. 

About 2,870 people have had open heart surgery at the centre during that time frame, Horizon said.

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"We are not aware of any patients who have developed such an infection following surgery at the New Brunswick Heart Centre," said Dr. Jean-François Légaré, clinical head of cardiac surgery at the centre.

"Fewer than a handful of cases have been identified in Canada over the last five years and no cases have been identified in New Brunswick to date."

Rare bacterial infection

Last October, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control started warning health-care providers and patients about the potential risk of infection from the Sorin 3T Heater Cooler technology.

The device, which is used to heat and cool blood during open heart surgery, has been linked to a rare and potentially deadly bacterial infection called non-tuberculosis mycobacterium, or NTM.

The New Brunswick Heart Centre has three of these devices, which could have been contaminated during manufacturing, putting patients at risk for infections.

Légaré said that last November, preliminary tests for bacteria on the heart centre's devices were found to be positive. The hospital immediately bleached the units and replaced the hosing, according to the manufacturer's instructions, he said.

Subsequent test results were negative for the bacteria.

Asked why Horizon waited so long to inform patients after the Centers for Disease Control warning, Légaré said the bacteria grow very slowly.

"It took several more weeks of testing to confirm the type of bacteria detected," he said, saying the hospital learned March 22 that the test swabs taken in November tested positive for the bacteria.

The Sorin 3T Heater Cooler technolog, which is necessary during open heart surgery, is used in most hospitals in Canada as well as in the U.S. and Europe, Horizon Health said.

Any open heart surgery patients of the New Brunswick Heart Centre who have questions or concerns can contact their family physicians or nurse practitioners or call toll–free at 1-844-428-6242.