Infection risk for heart surgery patients in Saskatoon Health Region

Patients are being notified of potential exposure to bacteria during open-heart surgeries that occurred between 2011 and 2016 at Saskatoon hospitals.. Shannon Fagan/Getty Images

At least 2,173 people who underwent open-heart surgery in Saskatoon in the last five years are being warned of the risk of infection.

The issue stems from a heating and cooling device used during the procedure to change the temperature of a patient’s blood, according to the Saskatoon Health Region.

READ MORE: 11,500 Alberta open-heart surgery patients potentially exposed to bacteria

The device is “essential” to performing open-heart surgery and is used in hospitals throughout Canada, the United States and Europe, the health region’s news release said.

“For most patients, the benefits of undergoing heart surgery far outweigh any remote risk of infection,” Dr. Greg Dalshaug, the health region’s division head of cardiac surgery, said in the release.

The chance contracting the non-contagious infection is below one per cent. Patients who have received open-heart surgery since 2011 are being contacted by letter to explain the risk and associated symptoms.

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“As a precautionary measure, and because safety is our highest priority, we are notifying patients and healthcare providers of this potential risk,” Dalshaug said.

People who received a pacemaker, defibrillator, cardiac catheterization or angioplasty are not at risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada have investigated reports that the device may be connected to a type of bacteria known as nontuberculous mycobacterium (NTM).

READ MORE: NSHA warns about low infection risk regarding heart surgeries in NS

NTM has the potential to cause illness in humans with weakened immune systems, though it is commonly found in nature in water and the soil, the health region said.

It’s believed the equipment was contaminated during the manufacturing process.

There are no known infections of this nature in Saskatchewan.

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