Sick Kids Hospital identifies case of infection linked to heart surgery

Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital is advising former heart surgery patients about a single case of a bacterial infection likely linked to a device used during cardiovascular surgery between December 2013 and 2016.

The non-tuberculous Mycobacterium chimaera infection has been associated with a device used to heat and cool the blood during heart surgery.

Sick Kids started using the heater-cooler units in December 2013, but changed how they were implemented in 2016, based on recommendations from Health Canada and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Families of children who may have been exposed to the bacterium during heart surgery have been notified of the risk and what signs and symptoms to watch for. The CDC estimates the chances of getting the infection at less than one per cent.

The hospital says a health provider should be contacted if a former patient experiences such symptoms as prolonged, unexplained fever; night sweats; unexplained weight loss or failure to thrive in infants; and chest pain.

M. chimaera is commonly found in water and soil and typically doesn’t cause disease in humans. The types of the infection linked to heater-cooler devices can take several months or even years to become evident, and the infection is treated with antibiotics. It is not passed from person to person.

Parents can call the hospital’s special information line 416-813-8880 or email heater.cooler@sickkids.ca if they have concerns or questions.

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