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Cardiac Infections at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans


Children’s Hospital of New Orleans has reported an infection outbreak with the bacteria Mycobacterium abscessus in at least 7 patients who had open-heart surgery from May to July 2017. The infections are linked to a heater-cooler machine in the operating room.

What is the problem?

The outbreak of infections has been traced to a machine in the operating room that is used to regulate the temperature of a patient’s blood during open-heart surgery or cardiopulmonary bypass.

What is Mycobacterium?

The outbreak involves Mycobacterium abscessus, a bacteria that is commonly found in water, soil, and dust. Mycobacteria rarely infects healthy people — but if it lands inside a patient’s body while they are undergoing surgery, it can cause a devastating infection.

Infection Outbreak at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans

On September 11, 2017, Children’s Hospital of New Orleans reported that a group of at least 7 children who had open-heart surgery between late May and July 2017 developed surgical-site infections with Mycobacterium abscessus:

“A common element in the affected children was open-heart surgery … We believe a piece of equipment used to regulate the temperature of patients while on bypass is the most likely source of this infection.”

Outbreak Investigation & Response

Investigators at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans believe the outbreak is limited to patients who had open-heart surgery in 1 operating room. The room was disinfected and the piece of equipment that was contaminated with Mycobacteria was removed and replaced.

Heater-Cooler Units Put Open-Heart Surgery Patients at Risk

Hospitals around the world have reported dozens of outbreaks of Mycobacterium chimaera and Mycobacterium abscessus in patients who underwent open-heart surgery. The problem is a piece of equipment called a Heater-Cooler Units (HCUs) that is found in nearly all operating rooms where cardiac bypass surgery is performed.

Symptoms of Mycobacterial Infections

Mycobacterium is a slow-growing bacteria. The symptoms of an infection may appear in the first few weeks after open-heart surgery, but in some cases the symptoms may not appear for up to 5 years.

Patients who have had open-heart surgery should seek medical care if they are experiencing symptoms associated with infections, such as:

  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained fever


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