News / Edmonton

AHS warns former Alberta heart patients of exposure risk to bacteria

Alberta Health Services says risk of infection is extremely low

Heart patients at the Stollery Children's Hospital could be at risk.

Metro File

Heart patients at the Stollery Children's Hospital could be at risk.

Thousands of former Alberta open-heart surgery patients are being notified —  after it was discovered they may have been exposed to infection.

Officials said Health Canada has reported that a device used to heat and cool blood during surgery has been linked to mycobacteria.

Alberta Health Services said Thursday 11,500 heart patients face an extremely low risk of infection if they were exposed to the bacteria.                  

AHS said the Federal Drug Administration and Centres for Disease Control in the U.S. and Health Canada have reported a potential risk for mycobacterium infection with certain heater-cooler units. 

AHS uses these units at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, and the Stollery Children’s Hospital and the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute in Edmonton.

Dr. Mark Joffe, AHS senior medical director with infection, prevention and control, said the heath authority is sharing the information to reassure patients that there is an extremely low risk of infection.

Joffe said AHS patients haven’t reported any infections to date.

 “As always, patient safety is our first priority,” he said, in a news release.

“Our sites follow manufacturer instructions for use to clean and maintain these machines. At all sites, we have implemented additional safety measures to further minimize risk.”

M. chimaera infections can’t be spread by person-to-person contact, AHS said.

Infection grow slowly and may take months or years to develop. Symptoms are subtle but progress over several weeks.

They include:

  • Fever.
  • Persistent and profuse night sweats.
  • Unintential weight loss.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Fatigue.
  • Redness, heat or pus at the surgical incision spot.

Joffe said it’s important for patients to consult with doctors if such symptoms persist for more than a couple of weeks or if they feel their health is declining.

AHS said it will mail notifications to Alberta physicians and former open-heart surgery patients who may have been exposed to the bacteria. Notifications will also be sent to parents or guardians of pediatric patients.

People looking for more information can call 811.

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