State directs hospitals to check for infections

Written by Dylan Segelbaum/York Daily Record | Nov 13, 2015 8:28 AM

State Health Secretary Karen Murphy says hospitals that use heater-cooler devices have been ordered to look at lab records for the past four years.

(Harrisburg) -- Following the discovery that thousands of people who underwent open-heart surgery could have been exposed to bacteria, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has directed all hospitals across the state that use a certain machine during the procedure to review their lab records from the past four years.

Along with ordering the analysis, the department has reached out to hospitals on "multiple levels," telling them about guidance the makers of these devices that heat and cool the blood have on cleaning, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Karen Murphy said on Thursday.

So far, the state has only been alerted about possible infections by York Hospital and Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

"The cases that we know of are still the cases that we've heard of," Murphy said during a conference call with reporters.

York Hospital and Hershey Medical Center both recently announced that patients who had the surgery could have been put in contact with nontuberculous mycobacteria. Though the bacteria are usually not harmful, they can cause infections in those who have weak immune systems.

At York Hospital, eight people -- including five who've since died -- were possibly infected. The infections were likely a "contributing factor" in the deaths, the hospital said. And the issue has been linked to the heater-cooler devices.

Meanwhile, at Hershey Medical Center, three patients have gotten the bacterial infections. Two have since died, but the center has said there's no evidence the infections played a role in the deaths -- or that the device is to blame.

Here's who could have been put in contact with the bacteria:

  • York Hospital: about 1,300 people who had open-heart surgery between Oct. 1, 2011, and July 24.
  • Hershey Medical Center: 2,300 patients who had the procedure between Nov. 5, 2011, and Nov. 5.

Brett Marcy, a spokesman for WellSpan Health, which owns York Hospital, said that there's no way to retroactively check for the infection in people who had surgery during that time and later died.

"And that's a very difficult truth," he said. "But that's the truth."

This article comes to us through a partnership between York Daily Record and WITF.

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