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Cluster of Cardiac Patients at MUSC Developing NTM Infections

Cluster of Cardiac Patients at MUSC Developing NTM InfectionsIn recent years, there have been outbreaks of non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) infections among patients at certain hospitals in South Carolina. McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC has represented patients in each of these outbreaks and are now investigating a fourth such outbreak. Our firm has reason to believe another outbreak has begun at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). We are currently representing clients who underwent surgery at MUSC and developed a NTM infection.  Please contact us if you or a loved one was exposed.

Why are MUSC patients at risk of NTM infections?

Because mycobacteria are found in water, safety procedures are put in place that will eliminate the majority of pathogens from water supplies in hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, and most medical facilities. Surgical patients in general face a risk of infection in most procedures, so it is incumbent upon the surgeon and the facility where the surgery occurs to follow all safety protocols necessary to protect the patient.

Currently, we are aware of four separate patients who have been diagnosed with a NTM infection after a surgical procedure at MUSC. The only cases identified to date were open chest procedures. These open chest procedures require the use of a heater-cooler device.

Heater-cooler devices, which are used to regulate a patient’s body temperature during bypass surgeries, pose a unique risk to surgical patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has informed hospitals and doctors that they must disclose that certain devices used during heart surgery, like heater-coolers, are exposing patients to serious health dangers. According to the CDC, the risks of contracting a bacterial infection are somewhere between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 100. Heart patients who had an artificial valve or other synthetic device are at greater risk of developing an infection.

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued its first safety communication about the potential dangers of NTM infections on October 15, 2015. Since then, the FDA and the CDC have issued numerous warnings and reports regarding NTM infections and the risk posed to people undergoing cardio-thoracic surgery. The FDA has identified three primary ways that the NTM infections could be spreading:

  • Aerosolization of the NTM bacteria from the water tanks of the heater-cooler devices
  • Disruption of the “laminar flow” in operating rooms by the exhaust fan on the heater-cooler
  • Poor and varied design of the heater-coolers

Who is at greatest risk of an NTM infection?

Your loved one may have been exposed to a heater-cooler-associated NTM if he or she underwent any of the following procedures:

  • Coronary bypass surgery
  • Open-heart surgery of any kind
  • Heart transplantation
  • Lung transplantation
  • Any surgery that requires the heart to be slowed or stopped for any reason

At this time, the outbreak appears limited to only cardiac patients, but we expect that many patients may be at risk.

What are the signs of an NTM infection?

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Persistent cough
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Profuse sweating
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Skin infections
  • Tissue infections
  • Inflammation of the lymph nodes (lymphadenitis)
  • Infection of the lymph nodes

About M. chimaera

One of the more common NTM infections associated with heater-cooler cases is M. chimaera. There are other strains that have been identified, but this appears to be the most prevalent. The infection is believed to arise from the water tanks the heater-cooler uses to control temperature. Contaminated water is believed to enter other areas of the device that feed into the device’s exhaust vent. The spray coming out of the exhaust vent is coming into contact with the patient, exposing them to the infection.

What are the complications associated with an NTM infection?

NTM infections can have long-term effects on the body. Some patients may develop chronic coughing and breathing difficulties. Others may have permanent damage to the lungs. Per the Cleveland Clinic, NTM infections also increase the risk of a medical condition called bronchiectasis, a widening of the bronchial tubes that “leads to increased mucus which can breed bacteria and lead to increased risk of infections.”

What should I do if I developed an NTM infection after surgery at MUSC?

If you developed a NTM infection after undergoing surgery at MUSC or another South Carolina hospital, call McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC today. We are currently representing clients who developed NTM infections that may have been caused by contaminated tap water being used in surgical procedures, defective heater-cooler devices, and/or both. If MUSC or its doctors failed to protect you from an NTM infection, you may be able to make a claim for damages citing:

  • Medical negligence. The dangers of heater-cooler units are known, so health care providers must take precautionary steps to clean and maintain the devices to minimize the risks of infection. They must also take all necessary steps to ensure that their operating rooms are safe and sterile.
  • Lack of informed consent. Health care providers have a duty to disclose risks to the patient before the procedure begins. Heater-cooler devices pose a risk to patients. Even if the failure to have the procedure might threaten the patient’s life, the patient must give his/her informed consent before the surgery can take place.

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If you had a surgery procedure and developed a NTM infection, McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC can discuss the options available to you.  If you have been diagnosed with a NTM after a surgical procedure at MUSC (or any other medical facility) or someone you love died from a NTM infection, our attorneys may be able to help you get justice. Please call 803-327-7800 or fill out our contact form today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced South Carolina medical malpractice lawyer from our firm.