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Mycobacterium chimaera in heater cooler units

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Mycobacterium chimaera in heater cooler units

The Department of Health will contact public patients who have undergone certain types of open-heart surgery, particularly heart valve replacement, and may have been exposed to a bacteria present in some equipment used worldwide.

A combination of issues, including some aspects of the design and manufacture of the heart bypass heater-cooler units in question, meant they had the potential to harbour a particular bacterium, Mycobacterium chimaera.

The bacterium is common and is regularly found in the environment, but infection as a result of exposure to it is extremely rare.

Infection from this bacterium is rare but it can be serious and can take between three months and five years to manifest – however, treatment is available.

The issue is not isolated to Queensland. Internationally, fewer than 100 patients have been identified as developing this infection.

Every unit in operation in the public sector in Queensland has undergone testing; and cleaning is continuing as per the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Particular symptoms people should look out for are prolonged, unexplained fever or weight loss.

Patients who have undergone relevant surgery and are exhibiting any of those symptoms, should visit their GP or call 13HEALTH.


Fact sheets


Information for patients and their families about Mycobacterium chimaera infection
By Dr John Wakefield
Deputy Director-General - Clinical Excellence Division, Department of Health

Transcript: Information about Mycobacterium chimaera infection

Hello. I'm Doctor John Wakefield, Deputy Director-General of the Clinical Excellence Division in the Queensland Department of Health.

You might be watching this video because you've heard reports recently of a rare bug called Mycobacterium chimaera being found in some equipment that is used during open-heart surgery.

If you've heard those reports, you're most probably wondering whether you or your family may be affected.

Firstly, even if you have had open-heart surgery, you may not be at risk. This piece of equipment is only used in particular types of open-heart surgery, and even then, the risk of infection from this bacterium is exceptionally low.

Only one infected patient has so far been identified in Australia, and less than 100 worldwide.

The most important point to remember is that this infection is very, very rare and I want to assure you that there is absolutely no need to panic.

So I'm sure you want to know if you or your family are at risk or not.

Have you had open heart surgery on a heart valve or aortic vascular graft (surgery) within the past five years? That’s any time since October 2011.

If not, you can stop watching this video now as you are not at risk and you need take no further action.

If you are unclear if your recent surgery was heart valve surgery or aortic vascular graft surgery please contact us on 13 HEALTH by calling 13 43 25 84.

If you did have open heart surgery on a heart valve or aortic vascular graft surgery within the past five years, please keep listening.

If you or your child fit that category, have you had any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks at a time?

  • Unexplained fevers or high temperature
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Increasing shortness of breath
  • Waking up with the bed-sheets covered in sweat (night sweats)
  • Joint or muscle pains
  • Nausea, vomiting or abdominal pains
  • Abnormal levels of tiredness and fatigue, or
  • Pain, redness, heat or pus around your surgical or operation site.

If you have none of those symptoms currently, no further action is necessary at this time.

However, if you are at all concerned, please speak to your doctor to put your mind at ease.

It's also important that you continue to look for signs of unexplained infection, as symptoms can take up to five years to show up. If you develop any of the symptoms in the list within five years of the date of your surgery, please make an appointment with your doctor or call us on 13HEALTH.

Now, if you’re still watching, and you do have one or more of the symptoms that I mentioned earlier, what should you do?

We recommend that you make an appointment with your GP for review. He or she may then refer you to your cardiologist. You can also contact us on 13 HEALTH by calling 13 43 25 84.

If this involves your child please contact your paediatric care co-coordinator.

Now I need to reiterate that infection from this bug is exceptionally rare. But it is important to see your GP as soon as you are able to if you have any of the symptoms in the list, that you have had for more than two weeks.

If you or your family member is positively tested for Mycobacterium chimaera, there is treatment available. It consists of 3 to 5 different antibiotics. As these antibiotics can have side effects, they are only prescribed in patients that are confirmed to have positive results.

Because not everyone will see this video, Queensland Health is taking the step to write to all patients who have had these types of surgeries. We want to make sure that every single person who may be affected has immediate access to all the information that they need, and that's why we are taking this very cautious approach.

If you would like more information you can find it on the Queensland Health website, or you can call us on 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).

Thank you.

Last updated: 6 September 2017