A warning to all people who have had open heart surgery, or a valve replacement, in the past five years has been given, saying equipment used in the operations was infected with a dangerous bacteria.
Clinical Excellence Division Deputy-Director General Dr John Wakefield said a combination of issues, including some aspects of the design and manufacture of heart bypass heater-cooler units used in the operations meant they could be infected with Mycobacterium chimaera.
‘Heart bypass heater-cooler units used in the operations could be infected with Mycobacterium chimaera posing a risk for the patients who underwent the surgery.’
Dr Wakefield said while the likelihood of infection was very low the resulting infection could be serious. "Infection from this bacterium is rare but it can be serious and can take between three months and five years to manifest - however, treatment is available," he said.
"Whilst the risk to patients is low, we have consulted extensively with clinical experts, including infectious disease specialists, and put a range of safeguards in place to reduce the risk even more.
"In Queensland, it is a notifiable condition and we are only aware of one case in the last five years that has been identified to be linked with open-heart surgery.
"That's out of approximately 20,000 public and 15,000 private patients who have undergone open-heart surgery in Queensland in the same time period.
Internationally, fewer than 100 patients have been identified as developing this infection. However, patient safety is our number one priority and that is why we are writing to all identified public patients and speaking with clinicians, even though infection is exceptionally rare.
Dr Wakefield said every unit in operation in the public sector in Queensland has undergone testing; and cleaning is continuing as per the manufacturer's instructions.
"Every single unit that has been affected has been taken out of routine use, and is being replaced. We have also worked with the private hospitals where similar actions have been undertaken. There has been no major impact to cardiac surgery services in Queensland as a result of this issue."
Dr Wakefield said identified patients should expect to receive a letter in the coming weeks.
"Of those who receive a letter, we expect only a very small percentage to require any sort of medical follow up and testing," he said.
"The particular symptoms people should look out for are prolonged, unexplained fever or weight loss. Patients who do not exhibit those symptoms do not need to be concerned and no further action is required."
Dr Wakefield said while he understood patients may be concerned, there was no need to panic and the Department's actions were precautionary.
"We want to make sure that every single person on this list has immediate access to all the information that they need, and that's why we are taking the cautious approach of sending a letter to every patient who could potentially have been exposed," he said.