05/09/2017 14:19 EDT | Updated 05/11/2017 08:04 EDT

Alberta Health Services confirms 1 surgery patient infected from machine

EDMONTON — Alberta Health Services says one patient contracted a bacterial infection associated with a machine that is used during open-heart surgery.

Last December, the health agency notified about 11,500 former open-heart surgery patients of a risk of infection related to potential exposure to bacteria.

The Federal Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control in the U.S., as well as Health Canada, has reported a potential risk for Mycobacterium chimaera infection associated with equipment needed to keep blood and organs at a certain temperature during adult and pediatric open-heart surgery.

Dr. Mark Joffe, a senior medical director with Alberta Health Services, said open-heart surgery is done at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary and at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and the Stollery Children’s Hospital, both in Edmonton.

He wouldn't disclose where the infected patient received the surgery, but said all three sites are well aware of the problem with the machine and have taken steps to try to prevent patients from getting the infection.

The patient had surgery one year to 18 months before symptoms showed up. It took another several months before the patient was diagnosed.

Symptoms generally progress over several weeks and may include fever, unexplained, persistent and profuse night sweats, unintentional weight loss, muscle aches, fatigue, and redness, heat or pus at the surgical incision site.

The patient is being given several drugs to treat the infection. The chances of getting the infection are between one in a 100 and one in a 1,000. But the benefits of surgery outweigh the risk of getting the infection, which can lead to death and is a very serious illness, Joffe said.

"Heart surgery is never zero risk. There have always been risks of infection following surgery ... This is a small additional risk added on to the other risks that have already been recognized.

"Individuals now undergoing surgery are advised they have a very low risk of this infection," Joffe said.

The manufacturer of the heater-cooler units, LivaNova PLC, has developed a fix to prevent the bacteria from entering air from the water reservoirs, but it is waiting to be licensed, Joffe said.

Until the machines can be replaced, Alberta Health Services has changed how the machines are cleaned and disinfected.

It is are looking at a way to put the machine in a containment device. AHS now puts the machine as far away as possible from the patient, and the unit's exhaust system vents directly into the operating room's system, so it doesn't come back into the room.

The bacteria cannot be spread by person-to-person contact and doctors and other health professionals in the operating room are not at risk.

Joffe said there have been two or three cases in Quebec, but no others in Canada.