When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent out a warning letter to patients and physicians in 2015 regarding infections from the Stockert 3T heater-cooler device, it was thought the full scope of the risk was understood. However, nearly two years later a new study has found the infection risk was more widespread than previously believed.
The Initial Problem
The Stockert 3T is manufactured in Germany by LivaNova. In early 2015, the company began to receive complaints from European patients about infections connected to the device. The heater-cooler device has been linked to rare bacteria called mycobacterium chimaera, or M. chimaera.
Studying The Infection Risk
Researchers from Pittsburgh looked into the infection risk presented by the Stockert 3T by collecting samples from across the country. Researchers tested 89 samples from 23 difference states, the District of Columbia, and Canada and found 33 units were contaminated with M. chimaera. The Stockert 3T is used in approximately 60% of hospitals for regulating patient body temperatures during cardiac/thoracic surgery, so the threat to patients is very real.
M. chimaera is a particularly dangerous bacteria because it presents very generic symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose. Last year, the FDA reported 79 instances of patient infections from the device, including at least 12 deaths. However, the agency believes many cases go unreported.
Infection Risk In Children
Recently, children who underwent cardiothoracic surgery in which the Stockert 3T was used have developed life-threatening infections because of the device.
Nearly one dozen children were infected with mycobacterium abscessus, or M. abscessus, a fast growing bacteria resistant to many types of antibiotics after undergoing surgery at the Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. M. abscessus can cause skin to become red, tender to the touch, swollen, or even painful. Infected skin can also develop boils. M. abscessus can also cause fever, chills, and muscle aches, among other symptoms.
Unfortunately, the Children’s Hospital in New Orleans is concerned there could be even more patients infected. Bacteria spread into open surgical wounds can lay dormant for months or even years before manifesting symptoms.
M. abscessus is most commonly spread in a hospital setting by contaminated medical equipment. Invasive procedures using contaminated medical equipment can expose a patient’s open surgical wound to the bacteria.
After the latest findings from researchers, some hospitals are reaching out to patients to inform them they may have been exposed to the risk. Because it can take months or even years for infection symptoms to manifest, it is incredibly important for cardiac surgery patients to watch out for signs of an infection. If you underwent cardiac or thoracic surgery within the last five years, talk to your doctor about your infection risk.