(November 1, 2016)

Important information for patients who have undergone open-chest cardiac surgery

UCHealth is notifying patients and their health care providers of recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding patients who have undergone open-chest cardiac surgery.

Across the nation, heater-cooler devices used during certain major surgeries that require the use of a heart/lung bypass machine have recently been linked to a rare bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium chimaera, a slow-growing species of nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM). Investigations into several clusters of infections have determined that these devices were likely contaminated with M. chimaera during manufacturing. It is possible that not all of the devices were contaminated during manufacturing.

The devices are used at hundreds of hospitals across the nation including three UCHealth hospitals: Medical Center of the Rockies, University of Colorado Hospital and Memorial Hospital Central.

All our hospitals will continue to closely follow CDC and manufacturer guidelines for disinfection, screening and maintenance practices.

CDC is recommending that clinicians, including cardiologists and primary care providers who care for patients who undergo or have undergone cardiac surgery, be aware of the risk and consider NTM as a potential cause of unexplained chronic illness. Infections can take months to years after surgery to develop, and symptoms are often general and nonspecific. There is no test to determine whether a person has been exposed to the bacteria. A test can identify infection once symptoms begin, but results can take about two months.

What are possible symptoms of an NTM infection?

Symptoms of an NTM infection may include:

  • night sweats
  • muscle aches
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • unexplained fever

If a patient experiences these symptoms after an open heart surgery, he or she should contact their doctor and share their history of surgery and potential exposure to a heater-cooler device.

UCHealth will continue to work with the CDPHE, CDC and FDA to ensure we are following all safety recommendations. We believe that with our current practices we can continue to provide patients who need this device with safe, high-quality care.

Questions and answers

Do UCHealth hospitals use these devices?
What are UCHealth, Memorial, UCH and MCR doing to protect patients?
What is the risk of infection?
How long does it usually take to these infections to show up? What's the shortest amount of time it's taken for an infection to occur following exposure to a contaminated heater-cooler device during bypass surgery? The longest?
Can a person who develops one of these NTM infections spread it to others, such as a family member?
Should everyone who was exposed to these devices during open-heart surgery receive antibiotics just in case?
Can patients be tested to know if they might have been exposed to the bacteria?
How long does it take to find out if an infection is being caused by NTM?
Why are these infections so deadly?
How does the CDC think the devices got contaminated?
Have these devices ever been recalled? Why aren't they being recalled now?