Alberta Health Services (AHS) is notifying the public of a confirmed case of Mycobacterium chimaera infection in an adult open heart surgery patient.

Image/Public domain photo/John Fowler via Wikimedia Commons
Image/Public domain photo/John Fowler via Wikimedia Commons

“We are sharing new information about the potential risk of exposure to M. chimaera bacteria as well as reassuring patients and families that the risk of infection remains low. To date, we have identified one infection in an AHS cardiac patient,” said Dr. Mark Joffe, AHS Senior Medical Director, Infection, Prevention and Control.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S., as well as Health Canada, have reported a potential risk for M. chimaera infection associated with certain heater cooler units, which are used to warm and cool blood during adult and pediatric open heart surgery.

AHS has and does use these heater cooler units at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary and at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton.

“At this time, we believe the risk to be between one in 100 and one in 1,000,” says Dr. Joffe. “If you or a child in your care has undergone a cardiac procedure at Foothills Medical Centre after Jan. 1, 2013, or at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute or Stollery Children’s Hospital after Jan. 1, 2012, and you have concerns about worsening health, especially if you are experiencing ongoing symptoms of an infection, we encourage you to contact your cardiac healthcare provider or family physician to discuss further.”

M. chimaera infections cannot be spread by person-to-person contact. Infections grow slowly and may take months or even years to develop. Symptoms can be subtle, but will generally progress over several weeks and may include fever; unexplained, persistent and profuse night sweats; unintentional weight loss; muscle aches; fatigue; redness, heat or pus at the surgical incision site.

AHS is monitoring the situation closely and will continue to follow all Health Canada guidance and direction related to use of heater cooler machines. Sites that use heater cooler units follow all manufacturers’ instructions for use, maintenance and cleaning of the heater cooler units and have implemented additional safety measures to further minimize risk to our patients.