NEW ORLEANS — At least a dozen children who had heart surgery at Children’s Hospital New Orleans between late May and July have infected incisions, apparently from contaminated equipment.
The infections were linked to a machine that regulates a patient’s temperature during heart surgery, said Dr. John Heaton, the hospital’s senior vice president and chief medical officer. The machine was replaced and patients are responding to intravenous antibiotics, he said.
He said 55 children had heart surgery between those days, and the hospital wrote and phoned all of their families. Seven of the 12 patients were identified through that outreach, he said. Heaton said a handful who have had only a phone screening so far will see doctors this week in northwest Louisiana.
The hospital began investigating after doctors reported three incision infections within 72 hours, all in children who had heart surgery at Children’s, Heaton said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes the bacteria in question on its website as common in water, soil and dust. It says contaminated medical devices can infect the skin and soft tissues under the skin.
Heaton said that the bacteria were quickly identified as mycobacteria, leading investigators to check out the heating and cooling unit because such units had been linked to other outbreaks.
Doctors at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina, reported this year that 12 of 24 patients who were infected between December 2014 and June 2015 had undergone heart surgery in an outbreak that ended when sterile water was used in bypass machines’ heater-cooler units. The germ, called Mycobacterium abscessus, was the same as that at Children’s.
The Food and Drug Administration reported last October that a certain model of bypass machines’ heater-cooler units had been linked to infections with a related germ, Mycobacterium chimaera. That model was used at Children’s Hospital.
Heaton said the hospital previously had used tap water in its unit but followed those FDA guidelines and, among other things, switched to filtered water. It has now replaced that model with one made by another company, he said.
The hospital is paying for treatment of the infections and related costs, such as parents’ hotel rooms and meals, he said.
Since the infection was transmitted from hospital equipment, neither the patients nor their insurance companies should pay, he said.
“We’re picking that up and making it right. … We’re going to try and make this as bearable as possible,” he said.
— Janet McConnaughey