September 21, 2016
Penn Medicine is contacting those who could be at risk after four patients at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center were found to have contracted infections that may be linked to a piece of medical equipment.
The hospital has since removed the equipment , and the risk to other patients is minimal, according to a statement from Susan Phillips, Penn Medicine’s senior vice president for public affairs.
Penn said that it got rid of the equipment because of a suspected link between the machines and nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), organisms naturally found in soil and water that can infect human airways and lung tissue.
While NTM infections are rare, they can be treated with antibiotics, Phillips said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is aware of the infections, which are thought to possibly be caused by heater-cooler machines, which are used to circulate blood during surgery.
The Food and Drug Administration warned hospitals of the potential link between the bacteria and the machines in October of last year.
NTM is common in the environment — like arsenic or mercury — and many can have it in their system without getting sick, according to April Hutcheson, spokesperson for the health department.
However, heart surgery patients are "medically fragile" — they have their "chest cracked open, essentially" — and, therefore, are more at risk to get sick from the bacteria, Hutcheson said.
That's why state and federal health officials are starting to take precautions with certain heater-cooler machines that are thought to be possibly connected to the infections.
NTM can be found from a number of sources and can grow very slowly before causing someone to get sick, which is why a direct link between the machines and the infections is difficult.