12 patients catch rare SSI linked to contaminated heater-cooler at Children's Hospital in New Orleans

Children's Hospital in New Orleans confirmed a dozen cardiac surgery patients treated between early June and July contracted a rare surgical site infection linked to a contaminated heater cooler device, according to The New Orleans Advocate.

The infections were caused by mycobacterium abscessus bacteria, which are commonly found in soil, water and dust, and represent a "highly unusual cause of surgical wound infections," according to the hospital.

The infected children are hospitalized, with some being "very close to going home," according to John F. Heaton, MD, the hospital's senior vice president and CMO. Patients' symptoms included surgical incision swelling, wound drainage, redness and fever. The infections are typically treatable with antibiotics and removal of the infected tissue.

"We were able to jump on this pretty quickly," Dr. Heaton told The New Orleans Advocate. "We surveil our patients pretty intensely, and when we had several patients present [symptoms] within a 72-hour period, that set off a red flag right away."

An investigation linked the bacteria to a contaminated heater-cooler unit used in a single operating room, which the hospital has since replaced. "This room has been terminally disinfected and our ongoing environmental surveillance of the operating rooms has not shown any contamination with the organism beyond the involved device," Children's Hospital in New Orleans said in a statement cited by The New Orleans Advocate.

As the infection can be slow to onset after exposure, the hospital has also contacted about 55 other patients who underwent heart surgery this summer about the possible risk of infection and set up a 24-hour hotline to answer questions and handle appointment requests.

To learn more about contaminated heater-cooler devices, click here.

To learn more about mycobacterium abscessus bacteria, click here.

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