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About SickKids

November 10, 2016

SickKids notifies heart surgery patients of potential infection risk associated with heater-cooler devices

TORONTO - The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is contacting patients who have had heart surgery since December 2013 (when the devices first came into use at SickKids) about a potential risk related to their surgery. In addition, a small number of patients who underwent other specific surgeries have been contacted.

A device used to heat and cool the blood during heart surgery has been linked to a rare bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium chimaera, a type of bacteria known as nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM). The bacteria may have been present in the machines during manufacturing and there is potential for bacteria-contaminated water contained in the device to be transferred via aerosolization (through the air) in the operating room environment. The chances of getting this infection are very low. The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the risk to be less than one per cent.

Many hospitals across the country, as well as in the United States and Europe, use this equipment during heart surgeries and are experiencing the same concerns. We are not aware of any patients who have developed this infection following heart surgery at SickKids.

NTM organisms are commonly found in the environment, from sources such as water and soil. They are typically not harmful to persons exposed to them and rarely cause complications. Most types of NTM that are associated with heater-cooler infections are slow-growing and it can take several months or even years for evidence of an infection to develop.

Features of this infection may include the following: unexplained fever; pain, redness, warmth or pus around a surgical incision; night sweats; joint pain; muscle pain; weight loss; and fatigue; as well as failure to thrive in infants.

If you are a parent of a child who has heart surgery at SickKids from December 2013 to October 2016, we suggest the following actions on your part:

  1. If your child is experiencing these symptoms, contact your health-care provider. Your health-care provider can contact Cardiology at SickKids as needed. Please bring this letter with you to your health-care provider.
  2. If your child is well, but you do have questions, please contact our special information line at 416-813-8880. You will be asked to leave your name and phone number and someone will return your call within five business days. Alternatively, you can send an email to jackie.hubbert@sickkids.ca (and cc riskmanagement.inquiries@sickkids.ca).

To assist in answering additional questions you may have, see our Frequently Asked Questions.

About The Hospital for Sick Children
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally. Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized child and family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. SickKids is proud of its vision for Healthier Children. A Better World. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca. Follow us on Twitter (@SickKidsNews) and Instagram (@SickKidsToronto).

For more information, please contact: 

Matet Nebres
The Hospital for Sick Children

Suzanne Gold
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-7654 ext. 202059