Pa. Department of Health directs hospitals to revisit records in light of infections
The state Department of Health is directing all Pennsylvania hospitals that use a certain device in open-heart surgeries to review patients' lab results after nearly a dozen people at York Hospital and Hershey Medical Center were diagnosed with a potentially deadly bacterial infections.
In a conference call Thursday, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Karen Murphy said her department also is contacting hospitals to make sure they're cleaning the devices according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Five patient deaths at York Hospital and two at Hershey Medical Center have been linked to the infection, caused a by a nontuberculous mycobacterium, or NTM.
York Hospital confirmed its fifth death Wednesday.
WellSpan spokesman Brett Marcy could not provide the exact date of death for the man, but he confirmed it occurred this month. His surgery took place in December 2014.
The death leaves just three of eight York Hospital patients, all men, who contracted the infection still alive. Marcy said all three are still undergoing active treatment.
The infections have been linked to a heater-cooler device used during open-heart surgeries.
Hospital officials have previously reported that NTM can usually be treated successfully once identified.
WellSpan has admitted that it did not clean the devices according to manufacturer guidelines and that it received a bulletin containing information about possible issues with the machine in August 2014 via a third-party notification system, but the bulletin was not fully shared throughout the organization.
The devices were replaced on the order of state Department of Health in July.
The bacteria is commonly found in tap water and is typically harmless, but it can cause infections during invasive procedures in people with weakened immune systems. It is slow growing and can take several months to develop and years before it is correctly diagnosed.
On Oct. 26, the hospital sent letters warning 1,300 patients who had open-heart surgery at the facility between Oct. 1, 2011, and July 24, 2015.
No other patients have been confirmed to have the infection since the letters were sent, but Marcy said the medical test for the infection takes up to eight weeks to provide results.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which assisted in WellSpan's initial investigation that began in July, has not directly linked the deaths to the infection, but the hospital has noted that it was "likely a contributing factor."
On Tuesday, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center announced it, too, had found infections among its open-heart surgery patients that may be related to the same device.
The center identified three patients with the infection, two of whom died, and began notifying 2,300 patients it believed might be at risk.