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CDC: Contaminated device poses risk for heart patients

If you or a loved one has had open heart surgery recently, you probably just went through one of the most stressful periods of your entire life.

Facing heart disease is scary. Knowing that someone's heart will be stopped, exposed and temporarily disconnected from major blood vessels is downright terrifying.

You might be surprised to learn that the risks from open heart surgery have been even more pronounced than they should be. The federal government has recently warned patients about possible contamination of a critical device used in bypass surgeries.

Contamination likely occurred during manufacturing

The device in question is called a "heater-cooler." Its purpose is to keep a patient's blood and organs at a specific temperature while the surgery is being performed.

In October, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a formal warning that these devices could be contaminated with harmful bacteria.

So far, evidence indicates that the machines were contaminated with bacteria during manufacturing. During surgery, contaminated water from inside the machine can aerosolize and enter the patient's body, leading to infection.

Who is at risk? What should patients do?

Anyone who has had bypass surgery is potentially at risk. The risk is higher if the surgery included implanting a valve or prosthetic device.

The bacteria in question - nontuberculosis mycobacterium (NTM) - is particularly problematic because there is no test that shows whether someone has been exposed. Additionally, the symptoms of infection can take months to appear.

If you or a loved one has had heart surgery recently, be on the lookout for the signs of infection. These include:

  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting

Patients who experience signs of infection should contact their doctor immediately. Additionally, individuals who are harmed by dangerous or contaminated medical devices have a legal right to take action against those responsible.

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