Approximately 1,300 open-heart surgery patients at WellSpan York Hospital have been notified of possible exposure to bacteria – a nontuberculous mycobacterium, or NTM. The potentially exposed patients are those who have had open-heart surgery at York Hospital between October 1, 2011 and July 24, 2015.

NTM is commonly found in nature and is not typically harmful, according to a WellSpan news release. However, in rare cases it can cause infections in patients who have had invasive medical procedures, especially patients with weakened immune systems.

The source of the infection is thought to be the hospital’s heater-cooler devices which are used to control a patient’s blood temperature during open-heart surgery. An internal review conducted by the hospital identified that its cleaning protocols for the water-cooler devices did not align perfectly with guidelines provided by the device manufacturer.

At least eight confirmed patients have contracted the bacterial infection and four of those patients died, according to published reports. The bacterium is not contagious, and the infection can usually be treated once identified. However, it is a slow-growing organism, and it can take months or years before the infection is correctly diagnosed.

The PA Department of Health said symptoms of the infection can include:

  • fever
  • weight loss
  • night sweats
  • loss of energy
  • pain, redness, heat or pus around a surgical incision
  • joint or muscle pain

Exposed patients are advised to seek medical treatment if they believe they might have symptoms.

A website, www.wellspan.org/YorkOpenHeart, has been set up for patients to get additional information and resources on this issue.

Federal health authorities believe this device issue may be widespread across the country and have issued health advisories to hospitals nationally in a preventative effort.

If you or a loved one feel you may have contracted an infection due to bacteria from a heater-cooler device at York Hospital or any other hospital, contact Metzger Wickersham today for a free consultation. Our experienced Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys are investigating potential cases on behalf of open-heart surgery patients who have suffered injury associated with this bacteria.

Sources: CDC, PA Department of Health, wellspan.org, fox43.com, wgal.com, pennlive.com