cardiac surgery patients faq

In October 2016, the St. Boniface Hospital and Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Cardiac Sciences Program began notifying adult patients who had open heart surgery in Winnipeg since 2012 about a potential infection risk related to their surgery. Patients who received a pacemaker or defibrillator, cardiac catheterizations, or angioplasties are not at risk.

Letters were sent out to patients who had surgery and may have been affected. There was also information in the media and a special phone line was set up to receive calls from patients or physicians who had questions. A Nurse Practitioner responded to each message.

As of the end of March 2017, there have been no confirmed cases of the infection in Winnipeg.

At this time, the special phone line has been disconnected.

We encourage you to discuss any symptoms or questions you may have with your family doctor. Click to see the information for patients:

Letter to patients

Questions and answers

What is the source of the infection?

A device used to heat and cool blood during open heart surgery has been linked to a rare infection caused by Mycobacterium chimaera, a type of bacteria known as non-tuberculosis mycobacteria (NTM). These devices were likely contaminated during manufacturing.

What is the risk of infection?

The chances of getting this infection are very low and for most patients, the benefit of undergoing the procedure outweighs the risk of infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States estimates the risk to be less than 1 per cent. Many hospitals across the country, the United States, and Europe use this equipment during open heart surgeries and are experiencing the same concerns.

We are not aware of any patients who have developed this infection following open heart surgery in Winnipeg.

Are patients who had non-invasive heart procedures, such as stents, pacemakers, defibrillators and ablations, also at risk?

No. Patients who had one a non-invasive heart procedure are not considered at risk for this infection as the heating-cooling device is not used during the procedure.

Can I be screened for this infection?

There is no screening test to see if you have been exposed to non-tuberculosis mycobacteria (NTM) during open heart surgery. This infection is very slow growing and hard to diagnose. NTM bacteria is commonly found in the environment and only rarely causes complications. It cannot be spread person to person. The infection is not detectable without symptoms.

What are the symptoms of infection?

Symptoms of infection may appear several months or years after surgery and may include: night sweats; muscle aches; weight loss; fatigue; unexplained fever; and redness, heat, or pus around the cut in your chest (sternal surgical incision).

Is the infection serious or life threatening?

NTM bacteria is commonly found in the environment and only rarely causes complications. It cannot be spread person to person.

How is the infection treated?

If you have an NTM infection, treatment may vary, and will be determined by your doctor.

What should I do if I have had open-heart surgery since 2012 and now have symptoms?

If you have had symptoms for more than a week, please contact your family physician or call the St. Boniface Hospital Cardiac Clinic line at 1-877-358-0426. If you are having severe symptoms please contact your family physician or seek emergency medical attention.

How has St. Boniface Hospital responded to this risk?

Strategies implemented to date include: using sterile water within the heater-cooler device which is drained and changed daily; cleaning the heater-cooler device according to the manufacturer's instructions with bleach weekly and documenting the cleaning; positioning the heater-cooler device outside of the surgical field curtain of air with the exhaust vent directed towards the operating room exhaust vent; and communicating with health care providers that may care for patients with NTM post cardiac surgery.

Click to see the information for health care providers:

Letter to health care providers

Screening algorithm

Please note again, the special phone line referred to in the letters linked above has been disconnected.