Open-heart surgery patients at Montreal Heart Institute could suffer infections

A surgery in progress.
A surgery in progress. Getty Images

Patients who have undergone open-heart surgery at the Montreal Heart Institute (MHI) are being notified that they may be at risk of infection.

This is associated with certain devices, such as heater-cooler systems, that are used during cardiac surgeries under cardiopulmonary bypass.

The potential for infection is low — 0.1 per cent to 1 per cent according to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Our main priority is the well-being and safety of our patients. Therefore, as a pre-emptive measure, we wish to get in touch with our patients in order to monitor their medical condition as adequately as possible,” said Dr. Denis Roy, chief executive officer at the MHI.

The Centre of Expertise for Medical Devices Reprocessing (CERDM) at the National Institute of Public Health and the Ministry of Health have been notified of the issue.

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The heater-cooler systems in question are used in several North American and European hospitals and may have been contaminated by a Mycobacterium chimaera bacterium during their manufacturing in Germany.

This type of bacterium is commonly found in nature and rarely causes adverse affects in people who contract it.

However, patients exposed during heart surgery could develop symptoms months or years after surgery.

“This bacterium is not contagious, but could potentially lead to serious infection and should be diagnosed by laboratory testing (microbiology) when symptoms occur,” according to Dr. Louis P. Perrault, cardiac surgeon and head of the department of surgery at the MHI.

All the devices, including audit and decontamination protocols used at the MHI, have been replaced.

“We are aware that the announcement of this potential risk of infection, albeit a low one, can be a source of concern for patients involved and we sincerely regret any inconvenience this can cause,” Roy said.

“Our main focus is to provide our patients with all the information, support and care they may need in order to cope with this situation.”

So far, two out of the 8,458 patients who have undergone surgery since 2012 have been diagnosed with the infection.

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“They are being taken care of and their treatment is underway,” said Roy.

To contact the call centre at the MHI, dial: 514 593-2505 and 1 844 593-2505.

A MHI professional is available Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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