On October 26, 2015, WellSpan York Hospital alerted approximately 1,300 open-heart surgery patients of possible exposure to a harmful bacteria. Just weeks later, on November 10, Penn State Milton Hershey Medical Center notified 2,300 of their patients to the same issue.

The bacteria, a nontuberculous mycobacterium (or NTM) is commonly found in nature and is not typically harmful. However, in rare cases, it can cause infections in patients who have had invasive medical procedures, especially patients with weakened immune systems.

Only patients who have had open-heart surgery over the last four years are believed to be at risk. Patients who have had other, non-invasive heart procedures – like stents, pacemakers, and defibrillators – are not at risk.

The source of the bacteria is thought to be the heater-cooler devices which are used at York Hospital and Hershey Medical Center to control a patient’s blood temperature during open-heart surgical procedures. It has been determined that the hospitals’ cleaning protocols for the water-cooler devices may not have aligned perfectly with guidelines provided by the device manufacturer. In the wake of the announcement warning potentially exposed patients, both hospitals have replaced all of their heater-cooler units.

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. Symptoms include pain, redness, heat or pus around a surgical incision. Additional symptoms are fever, weight loss, night sweats, joint and muscle pain, and loss of energy. Exposed patients are advised to seek medical treatment if they experience any symptoms.

Patients from other health care facilities that use the heater-cooler devices may also be at risk, and state health officials are urging all medical providers to follow updated guidelines for cleaning the heater-cooler devices.

Metzger Wickersham’s personal injury attorneys are investigating potential cases involving bacterial infection from heater-cooler devices at York Hospital, Penn State Hershey Medical Center or any other hospital. Contact us today for a case evaluation. The consultation is confidential and free.