14 December 2016
NSW Health has provided updated information to patients who may have been exposed to a rare infection from open heart surgery equipment, in response to the latest international advice.
In August, NSW Health responded to international reports of infection in patients due to Mycobacterium chimaera bacteria associated with open heart surgery machines by:
  • Replacing and/or extensively cleaning the small number of these machines used in four public hospitals – Prince of Wales Hospital, St George Hospital, Children’s Hospital Westmead and Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick
  • Issuing alerts to the community and doctors
  • Circulating new national control guidelines for the devices.
The open heart surgery machines ­– heater-cooler units made by Sorin (now LivaNova) – are widely used around the world and are thought to have been contaminated during manufacture.
NSW Health is continuing to conduct surveillance for any evidence of the infection in cardiac surgery patients in NSW and monitoring international responses and advice. To date there have been no reports of infections in any cardiac surgery patients in NSW due to this bacteria. However one case of the infection has been found in Australia – in a Queensland hospital patient.
NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said that in line with international advice NSW Health is taking the additional precautionary step of writing to patients who may have been exposed to the rare infection.
“Open heart surgery is a life-saving procedure for many patients. NSW Health has taken immediate action to mitigate the risk to cardiac patients which, I emphasise, is very low,” Dr Chant said.
“Experts have advised that while the risk to cardiac patients is low, those who have had prosthetic material implanted during their open-heart surgical procedure, such as heart valve replacement surgery, may be at a slightly higher risk.
“The risk of a patient contracting an M.chimaera infection following open heart surgery on an affected machine is about one in 10,000.”
The South-Eastern Sydney Local Health District and Sydney Children’s Hospital Network (SCHN) are writing to people who have had open heart surgery at the four hospitals from January 2012 to August 2016. The letters are informing patients of the measures taken by NSW Health and reassuring them that proactive monitoring is in place and that the risk of clinical infection remains extremely low.
Patients seeking further details can contact the following information lines:
  • Sydney Children’s Hospital Network – 02 9845 3442 (8.00am – 5.00pm)
  • South Eastern Sydney Local Health District –1800 875 526 (8.00am – 5.00pm).
 NSW Health has also sent a further update to cardiothoracic surgeons and other clinicians in NSW who might attend these patients to remind them to consider the possibility of Mycobacterium chimaera infections, which can develop up to five years after surgery.
“We want to ensure these patients have the latest information and advice about the risk of infection and know that we are acting in line with international advice to minimise any risk to cardiac patients,” Dr Chant said.
For further information please see the NSW Health Fact Sheet.