With at least eight patients reportedly developing a serious infection after surgery at the WellSpan York Hospital, authorities were quick to notify about former patients who may have been exposed to the same infectious agent.
About 1,300 patients who have had their open heart surgeries within the past four years at WellSpan York Hospital have been informed that they could have possibly been infected with a rare yet deadly bacterial infection that had killed at least four other patients.
These patients are urged to consult with their healthcare providers immediately, and if found to have the infection, WellSpan promised to provide treatment for said infection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have linked these cases to the heater-cooler medical devices used during the operations. The hospital had these devices replaced and assured current patients that there is no longer a risk for exposure to the bacteria.
Dr. Hal Baker, part of the hospital's infection control, admitted that the staff were not strictly adhering to the manufacturer's instructions when it came to cleaning the machine, and that since then, the manufacturer had issued updates to follow its instructions to prevent further incidents like this.
"The new equipment is being meticulously maintained according to the enhanced cleaning procedures," said Keith Noll, president of WellSpan York Hospital. "Patients can have full confidence that the hospital fully complies with the highest standards of disinfection and maintenance."
The bacteria in question is the non-tuberculous mycobacterium (NTM). While typically non-lethal, in rare cases and in weakened patients who have undergone invasive medical procedures, it can cause severe infections.
Thankfully, NTM is non-contagious and can be successfully treated once it is identified. However, the bacteria can take residence in the host for up to several months before developing an infection. It may take even longer before the infection is correctly diagnosed.
"We know that the news of this potential risk of infection may be concerning to our open-heart patients, and we sincerely regret any distress that it may create for those patients and their families," Noll said.
In line with this, the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued advisories to alert healthcare providers on heater-cooler devices being possible reservoirs for NTM bacteria and the possibility of acquiring NTM infections during open heart surgery.