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Watch for infection following open heart surgery

With any surgery the risk of infection is present. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this week that a number of patients in the U.S. and Europe had suffered serious infection after open heart surgery.

A heater-cooler device that helps keep the blood at the right temperature during the surgery has been to blame. The CDC raised concern about contamination of the devices back in 2015. The agency has since completed additional testing and will be releasing more information.

Across the country about 250,000 open heart surgeries are performed using these devices each year. The director of the CDC warned that “hospitals should check to see which type of heater-coolers are in use, ensure they’re maintained according to the latest manufacturer instructions, and alert affected patients and the clinicians who care for them.”

Bacteria becomes airborne

What has been discovered is that mycobacteria can escape from the water in the heater-cooler. Once in the air, the bacteria can fall onto an artificial heart valve before it is inserted in the patient. Once in the body the bacteria grows slowly forming a layer of slime that can go undetected for years.

Patients who need prosthetic values or other products are at a higher risk for infection. Because the symptoms are “not very telling” the CDC is educating doctors about the risks.

Could contamination be an issue of medical malpractice if the heater-cooler was not properly maintained? Is there a defect with existing machines that the manufacturer needs to remedy?

Answers to these questions will vary based on each situation. Investigating what happened during a surgery often requires the assistance of medical experts who help our attorneys analyze whether a medical malpractice claim has merit. Doctors and hospitals can be held accountable when carelessness leads to injury.

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