11 August 2017

A fourth heart surgery patient in NSW – a man in his 60s – has been confirmed with Mycobacterium chimaera infection following exposure to the rare bacteria from open heart surgery equipment used worldwide.

Like the previous three M chimaera cases in NSW, the patient underwent open heart surgery, which included a valve replacement, at Prince of Wales Hospital in 2015.

Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said NSW Health was first notified of the risk posed by contaminated heater-cooler units in 2016 and has written to every patient who had faced potential exposure to equipment in NSW public hospitals.

While the overall risk of M chimaera infections after cardiac surgery is very low, Dr Chant said patients who underwent open heart surgery in the general period between 2012 and August 2016 should be alert to symptoms including fevers, increasing or unusual shortness of breath, and unexplained weight loss.

The time period of risk varies by hospital so patients and their doctors are encouraged to check the details listed for their hospital in the NSW Health M chimaera fact sheet.

“Because M chimaera are slow-growing bacteria, patients will need to remain alert for symptoms of infection for five years after their open heart surgery involving the affected equipment, particularly if surgery included implants, such as heart valves, and seek medical advice straight away if symptoms develop,” Dr Chant said.

“Early identification of these infections is critical because it allows for early treatment to begin and this leads to better patient outcomes.”

"We have been communicating with heart surgery patients at the four NSW public hospitals that used the affected equipment at Prince of Wales, St George, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick.

“We have also sent information and updates to GPs, specialists and laboratories and to private hospitals to alert them to the situation and enable them to support patients.

The machines at all four hospitals have been either replaced or removed.

More than 100 patients worldwide have been affected by the equipment linked to M chimaera infection. Equipment is thought to have been contaminated during manufacture. The first case in Australia was confirmed in Queensland last year.

Patients seeking further details can contact the following information lines:

  • ​South Eastern Sydney Local Health District –1800 875 526 (8am – 4pm, excluding weekends and public holidays)
  • Sydney Children’s Hospital Network – 02 9845 3442 (8am – 5pm, excluding weekends and public holidays).

For further information please see the NSW Health Fact Sheet.

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Page Updated: Friday 11 August 2017