Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia is the latest hospital in the state to report a cluster of unexpected infections in patients who’ve had heart surgery.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health said 21 heart surgery patients — at three different hospitals — have been diagnosed with the bacterial infection called nontuberculous mycobacteria, known as NTM.
The infection can be very slow growing, and the cases have been discovered over two years.
Other cases of NTM in patients with a history of heart surgery have been reported at WellSpan York Hospital and the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
In some cases, the patients later died but state health department spokeswoman April Hutcheson said cardiac patients are often medically fragile, and it’s not clear that NTM infection caused the deaths.
“To draw a direct line between the two from a scientific standpoint is practically impossible, but we know that bacterium has been found in these machines, and the FDA has issues new guidance,” she said.
A machine used to warm and cool blood during surgery can aerosolize and spread NTM bacteria in the air, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“The FDA has not pulled these machines from the market,” Hutcheson said.
Pennsylvania is keeping in close contact with federal health officials and sharing with medical centers across the state as more information becomes available.
“We are staying aware and being cautious,” she said.
Penn Presbyterian patients notified
Officials at Presbyterian, which is part of the Penn Medicine Health System, said all its medical centers have stopped using the equipment.
Four NTM patients linked to heart surgery were reported at Penn Presbyterian.
Because a very small percentage of the health system’s patients had a surgery involving the machine, officials believe the risk to other patients is minimal, said Susan Phillips, Penn Medicine’s senior vice president for public affairs, in an email.
“However, out of an abundance of caution, we are contacting all patients who fall into this group, and their referring physicians, to provide them with this information and, if indicated, offer an evaluation for any concerned patients,” she said.
By email Michael Consuelos, senior vice president of clinical integration at the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania said, “Hospitals across the commonwealth report quality information to multiple agencies and organizations, including the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4), the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH), the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority (PSA), as well as federal agencies, etc.”
Consuelos said the association’s Pennsylvania Hospital Engagement Network is working to craft strategies to prevent hospital-acquired infections and other patient harms.