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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an alert to heighten clinicians' awareness about infections associated with heater-cooler devices and steps healthcare providers and health facilities can take to mitigate risks to patients.
Heater-cooler devices are used during cardiothoracic surgeries, as well as other medical and surgical procedures to warm or cool a patient to optimize medical care and improve patient outcomes. Heater-cooler devices include water tanks that provide temperature-controlled water to external heat exchangers or warming/cooling blankets through closed circuits. Although the water in the circuits does not come into direct contact with the patient, there is the potential for contaminated water to enter other parts of the device or transmit bacteria through the air (aerosolize) through the device’s exhaust vent into the environment and to the patient.
Through the FDA’s analysis of adverse event reports, the medical literature, and information from national and international public health agencies, we are aware that the use of heater-cooler devices has been associated with Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) infections, primarily in patients undergoing cardiothoracic surgical procedures. NTM organisms are widespread in nature and can be found in soil and water, including tap water sources. They are typically not harmful, but in rare cases may cause infections in very ill patients and/or in individuals with compromised immune systems.
Between January 2010 and August 2015, the FDA received 32 Medical Device Reports (MDRs) of patient infections associated with heater-cooler devices or bacterial heater-cooler device contamination. Twenty-five of these MDRs were reported to the FDA in 2015. Some reports describe NTM infections related to cardiothoracic surgeries, but other reports do not specify the procedure the patient was undergoing. Eight reports were related to three events describing patient infections occurring in U.S. healthcare facilities. The remaining 24 reports involved healthcare facilities outside the United States, most of these in Western Europe. In some cases, patients presented with infections several months to years after their surgical procedures. It is important to note that half of the 32 reports submitted to the FDA describe bacterial contamination of the heater-cooler device without known patient involvement or infection. The FDA is not aware of NTM infections acquired by hospital staff.
It is possible that some cases have not been reported to the FDA. It is challenging for a healthcare facility, healthcare provider, manufacturer, or patient to recognize that infections, particularly NTM infections, may be associated with the use of or exposure to a particular medical device. The FDA continues to evaluate reports through follow up with health care facilities and manufacturers to determine which factors may have contributed to the reported events.
Recommendations for Healthcare Facilities and Staff
In addition to following standard precautions, the FDA recommends that facilities and staff using heater-cooler devices consider implementing the following measures to reduce risk to patients:
• Strictly adhere to the cleaning and disinfection instructions provided in the manufacturer’s device labeling. Ensure you have the most current version of the manufacturers’ instructions for use readily available to promote adherence.
• Do not use tap water to rinse, fill, refill or top-off water tanks since this may introduce NTM organisms. Use only sterile water or water that has been passed through a filter of less than or equal to 0.22 microns. When making ice needed for patient cooling during surgical procedures use only sterile water or water that has been passed through a filter of less than or equal to 0.22 microns. Deionized water and sterile water created through reverse osmosis is not recommended because it may promote corrosion of the metal components of the system.
• Direct the heater-cooler’s vent exhaust away from the surgical field to mitigate the risk of aerosolizing heater-cooler tank water into the sterile field and exposing the patient.
• Establish regular cleaning, disinfection and maintenance schedules for heater-cooler devices according to the manufacturers’ instructions to minimize the risk of bacterial growth and subsequent patient infection.
• Develop and follow a comprehensive quality control program for maintenance, cleaning, and disinfection of heater-cooler devices. Your program may include written procedures for monitoring adherence to the program and documenting set up, cleaning, and disinfection processes before and after use.
• Immediately remove from service heater-cooler devices that show discoloration or cloudiness in the fluid lines/circuits, which may indicate bacterial growth. Consult your hospital infection control officials to perform the appropriate follow up measures and report events of device contamination to the manufacturer.
• Consider performing environmental, air, and water sampling and monitoring if heater-cooler contamination is suspected. Environmental monitoring requires specialized expertise and equipment to collect and process samples, which may not be feasible in all facilities.
• Healthcare facilities should follow their internal procedures for notifying and culturing patients if they suspect infection associated with heater-cooler devices.
• Submit a report to the manufacturer and to the FDA via MedWatch if you suspect heater-cooler devices have led to patient infections.
The FDA is actively engaged with stakeholder groups to better understand the causes and risk factors for transmission of microbial agents associated with these devices and to develop strategies to minimize patient exposure. The agency's ongoing activities include:
• Working with healthcare facilities and professional medical societies to understand their experiences with heater-cooler devices.
• Evaluating information about documented and potential infections from multiple sources, including medical device adverse event reports submitted to the FDA, the medical literature, international public health agencies and federal partners.
• Collaborating with medical device manufacturers to review their existing cleaning and disinfection protocols provided in the instructions for use for currently marketed devices.
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Sax, H.; Bloemberg, G.; Hasse, B.; et al. Prolonged outbreak of Mycobacterium chimaera infection after open chest heart surgery. disclaimer icon Clin Infect Dis. 2015 Mar 11. (Abstract)
Falkinham JO.; Pruden A.; Edwards M. Opportunistic Premise Plumbing Pathogens: Increasingly Important Pathogens in Drinking Water.disclaimer icon Pathogens 2015;4(2):373-386.