Nfld. & Labrador

Heart surgery patients in N.L. told of potential infection risk

Eastern Health is notifying adult patients who have had open heart surgery since 2012 about a potential infection risk from a device used during the operation.

Eastern Health following up on Health Canada alert from October

Eastern Health is warning cardiac patients after the international recall of a machine used during open heart surgery. (CBC)

Eastern Health is notifying adult patients who have had open heart surgery since 2012 about a potential infection risk from a device used during the operation.

The Newfoundland and Labrador health authority said Thursday it is following up on a Health Canada alert issued to hospitals on Oct. 21.

The possible risk is related to a device used to heat and cool blood during cardiac surgery.

"Eastern Health is not aware of any patients who have developed this infection following open heart surgery in Newfoundland and Labrador, but joins many hospitals across Canada, the United States and Europe who are notifying patients," it said in a news release.

Why the delay?

In the House of Assembly Thursday afternoon, the Progressive Conservative health critic, Steve Kent, wanted to know why Eastern Health waited a month to issue a public alert.

The public service announcement today … was to ensure that anybody who may have missed that communication was also contacted.- John Haggie

Health Minister John Haggie said the health authority was contacting patients directly during that time.

"Eastern Health have set up a database and have now contacted all 2,500 or thereabouts of the individuals who have used, or had used on them, in open heart surgery, this disposable heater/cooler system," said Haggie.

"The public service announcement today … was to ensure that anybody who may have missed that communication was also contacted."

Eastern Health says about 2,500 cardiac patients had surgery using the machine that has since been recalled across North America and in Europe. (CBC)

Eastern Health told CBC News in an email Thursday afternoon that its cardiac/critical care program is in the process of notifying patients by mail.

"We have developed a patient registry of those who may be affected and have taken part in multiple national conversations regarding how to best approach this issue. Many other jurisdictions are still working through this process," it said in the release.

International recall

Health authorities in Manitoba and Quebec warned about the potential risk on Oct. 31 and Nov 2.

Two patients who were operated on at the Montreal Health Institute have been diagnosed with a related infection, but recovered.

Contaminated equipment has been tied to 28 cases in the U.S. and machines were recalled in Canada in June.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pegged the risk of infection at less than one per cent.

It advised patients to seek medical care if they experience symptoms associated with infection, such as night sweats, muscle aches, weight loss, fatigue or unexplained fever.

Patients who have had open heart surgery since 2012 are encouraged to discuss their concerns with the family doctor or call Eastern Health directly at 709-752-5252 or 1-877-720-2323.

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