The Centers for Disease Control warned hospitals today about infection dangers posed by certain medical devices commonly used to regulate a patient’s body temperature during open heart surgeries. The CDC's Health Advisory was issued on the same day Consumer Reports published an article on the connection between those heater-cooler devices and dangerous, sometimes deadly infections.

Contaminated devices have been linked to non-tuberculosis mycobacteria (NTM) infection outbreaks in at least 16 hospitals across 10 states. NTM is a microbe that is common in soil and water and usually harmless. But when it makes its way into the chest cavity or onto the prosthetic heart valve of a surgical patient, it can be deadly.

The CDC indicated that new information shows that some LivaNova PLC Stockert 3T heater-cooler devices were likely contaminated with the bacteria during manufacturing. More than 250,000 heart bypass procedures a year are performed using one of these devices, according to the CDC.

In their alert to hospitals, the CDC urged the facilities to determine whether they have used the 3T devices and to implement recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration for minimizing the NTM infection risk. The alert says hospitals should notify surgeons and other relevant staff of the risk and consider informing surgery patients of potential risks and symptoms. The health agency also advises hospitals to have in place strategies for monitoring patients who may have been exposed to the NTM bacteria.

“It’s important for clinicians and their patients to be aware of this risk so that patients can be evaluated and treated quickly,” said Michael Bell, M.D., deputy director of CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. In addition, patients who have had open heart surgery should seek medical care if they experience symptoms associated with the infections, such as night sweats, muscle aches, weight loss, fatigue, or unexplained fever, the CDC says.

“All patients should be notified of the symptoms to look out for with these infections,” says Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Report's Safe Patient Project. “And, going forward, patients must be informed of the risks in advance of surgery.”

The CDC also provided information to healthcare and providers and patients on the infection, including a video answering common questions about NTM infections.  

CDC and the Food and Drug Administration initially published information and alerts about these potentially contaminated heater-cooler devices in 2015. The agency estimates that in hospitals where at least one infection has been identified, the risk of a patient getting an NTM infection was between about 1 in 100 and 1 in 1,000.