Some heater-cooler units used in cardiac surgery were contaminated with a rare bacterium called Mycobacterium chimaera (or M. chimaera), and there is a small risk that exposure to these units in the operating theatre may lead to infections in exposed patients that can appear months to years after surgery.
M. chimaera infections in cardiac surgery patients associated with a particular heater-cooler unit type made by LivaNova (Sorin) were first recognised in Switzerland. These devices, which were widely used around the world including Australia, are thought to have been contaminated during manufacture.
Over 120 patients worldwide have been identified with M. chimaera infections after cardiac surgery, including 7 people in NSW who had open heart surgery at Prince of Wales Hospital in 2015.
Genetic testing of clinical samples strongly links all NSW cases to the worldwide outbreak.
Mycobacterium chimaera (M. chimaera) is one of a group of bacteria called non-tuberculous Mycobacterium bacteria (NTM) that are commonly found in the environment, such as water and soil.
M. chimaera only very rarely causes infections in people. Infections tend to develop very slowly and in people who are more susceptible to infections because of other health conditions.
Heater-cooler devices are often used during cardiac surgery because circulating blood and organs must be maintained at specific temperatures.
Patients who had open-heart surgery at the following locations and in the time periods listed:
As this is an international problem, patients who had cardiac surgery in other states or territories, or overseas could also have been exposed.
Other signs of a possible M. chimaera infection may include:
Contact your local doctor if you are experiencing symptoms and inform them that you had open-heart surgery.
No, there is no test to show if people who are well are at risk of developing the infection in the future.
M. chimaera infections can be treated with combinations of specific antibiotics. Some patients who become infected may need prolonged treatment (from months to years).
Additionally, although rare, some heart valve patients who develop M. chimaera infections after having cardiac surgery may require additional surgery. If untreated, M. chimaera infection could be fatal.
No, M. chimaera infections are not contagious. They do not spread from person-to-person.
Always discuss the benefits and risks of your surgical procedure with your doctor.
For most patients, the benefit of undergoing a cardiac procedure recommended by their doctor far outweighs the risk of infection. Ask your doctor what to expect following your procedure and when to seek medical attention.