Penn State Hershey Medical Center contacts 2,300 open-heart surgery patients who may be at risk of infection

Penn State Hershey Medical Center is contacting 2,300 patients who underwent open-heart surgery within the past four years and may have contracted nontuberculosis mycobacterium infections. Two deaths from the infections may be linked to the medical center's use of heater-cooler devices, according to a news release.

The announcement comes a few weeks after Pennsylvania-based WellSpan York Hospital began notifying 1,300 of its patients about infections linked to the devices following four patient deaths due to NTM infections.

"Based on identification of infections arising from surgery at York Hospital, along with information from a 2015 study published in the journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases, which links risk of infection to aerosolized bacteria from heater-cooler devices used during open-heart surgery, Penn State Hershey began a voluntary review of the Medical Center's own heater-cooler devices," a statement from the medical center reads.

The hospital is investigating the potential for the heater-cooler devices to transmit NTM, which in rare cases can cause infections in patients undergoing invasive procedures. While neither of the NTM infection deaths have been linked directly to the medical center's devices, infection control specialists at Penn Hershey have identified three of 2,300 cases in which NTM infections did occur, according to the release. The infections are not contagious.

Penn State Hershey delayed two open-heart surgeries scheduled for Nov. 6 out of "an abundance of caution" so the heater-cooler devices could be replaced. As of Nov. 8, the hospital has replaced all of its heater-cooler devices.

"Ensuring the safest, most high-quality care for patients is always our top priority," Alan Brechbill, executive director of Penn State Hershey Medical Center, said in a statement. "That is why we proactively engaged state and federal health officials throughout the course of our thorough internal review, and why we continue to seek their guidance as we inform our patient and provider community."

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