Press Releases

Monday, October 31, 2016

St. Boniface Hospital and Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Cardiac Sciences Program notifying patients of risk of infection

The St. Boniface Hospital (SBH) and Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Cardiac Sciences Program are notifying adult cardiac surgery patients who had open heart surgery since 2012 about a potential infection risk related to their surgery.

A device used to heat and cool blood during open heart surgery has been linked to a bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium chimaera, a type of bacteria known as non-tuberculosis mycobacteria (NTM). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States estimates the risk to be less than 1 per cent. At this time, we are not aware of any patients who have developed this infection following open heart surgery at St. Boniface Hospital.

"The chances of getting this infection are very low, and for most patients, the benefit of undergoing the procedure outweighs the risk of infection," said Dr. Rakesh Arora, Cardiac Surgeon, Cardiac Sciences Program. "Our priority is the wellbeing of our patients, and out of an abundance of caution, we are notifying patients of this risk."

The heating-cooling devices are essential to performing open heart cardiac surgeries. The devices are used in hospitals across the country, as well as the United States and Europe. It is strongly suspected the bacteria was present in the machines upon manufacturing but was not detected at the time.

NTM bacteria is commonly found in the environment and only rarely causes complications. The infection is very slow growing and difficult to diagnose. In some cases, patients can develop symptoms months or even years after surgery.

"The infection is not contagious and cannot be spread person to person," said Dr. Evelyn Lo, SBH Director, Infection Prevention and Control. "There is no screening test to see if patients have been exposed to NTM during their surgery, and the infection is not detectable without the presence of symptoms."

The devices at St. Boniface Hospital are being tested for the bacteria. The Cardiac Sciences Program has implemented all new recommendations from the manufacturer to reduce the risk of infection while waiting for test results.

"Our priority is contacting our patients," said Dr. Arora. "Over 4,300 patients who have undergone open heart surgery at St. Boniface Hospital since 2012 will receive a letter in the mail advising them of the risk and letting them know who to contact should they have any questions or concerns."

Individuals who have had open heart surgery should contact their family physician if they are experiencing the following symptoms: night sweats; muscle aches; weight loss; fatigue; unexplained fever; and redness, heat, or pus around the sternal surgical incision. Patients who have had symptoms for more than a week are encouraged to contact their family physician or the Cardiac Clinic line at 1-877-358-0426 to be screened.

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