If you recently had open heart surgery, you may have been exposed to a risk of deadly infections from a machine in the operating room that kept you warm. These machines include the Stӧckert 3T Heater-Cooler.
Heater-cooler devices are used during open-heart surgery to regulate the body temperature of a patient. These devices pump water in a special blanket that is draped over the patient. The water never contacts the patient, but it does evaporate and spray into the operating room through the exhaust vents.
The problem is that if there is bacteria in the water, it can land on a patient and cause an infection. Watch this video from the CDC:
What is the risk?
Your risk of developing an infection is low. Millions of heart surgery patients have been exposed, and only a few dozen infections have been reported. The problem is that a lot of people were exposed. Recent studies have found that nearly all heater-coolers made in the last 8-10 years were contaminated with bacteria. The bacteria is called M. chimaera, and the infections can take up to 5 years to cause symptoms. They can be treated with 1-2 years of antibiotics, but without proper diagnosis, infections can be deadly.
List of Heater-Cooler Infection Outbreaks
At least six hospitals in Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Michigan have reported 28 cases of NTM infections associated with heater-cooler devices:
- Wellspan York Hospital – 1,300 notified; 12 cases; 10/1/11 to 7/24/15
- Penn State Hershey Hospital – 2,300 notified; 5 cases; 11/5/11 to 11/5/15
- Penn Presbyterian Medical Center – 1,100 notified; 4 cases; 10/1/13 to 12/17/15
- University of Iowa – 1,500 notified; 3 cases; 1/1/12 to 1/22/16
- Mercy Medical Center in Iowa – 2,600 notified; 2 cases; 7/1/12 to 7/1/16
- Spectrum Health Medical Center in MI – 4,500 notified; 2 cases; 1/1/12 to 11/10/15
Watch for Signs of Infection
Over 13,000 heart surgery patients have been notified that they may have been exposed and they should be vigilant for symptoms of a non-tuberculosis mycobacterial (NTM) infection. Because the bacteria is slow-growing, it can take up to four years for symptoms to appear.
Symptoms of an Infection
- Pain, redness, heat, or pus around a surgical incision
- Night sweats
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Weight loss
- Failure to thrive in infants