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BC’s cardiac centres notify patients of low risk of infection associated with heater-cooler machines

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​Vancouver – In response to a Health Canada advisory, patients who had surgery in BC where heart-lung bypass was required are being notified of a low infection risk associated with a machine used to warm and cool blood during surgery. 

Several people in North America have been diagnosed with a rare infection after heart, heart transplant or lung transplant surgery caused by a type of bacteria called Mycobacterium chimaera. In these cases, the infection was traced to the water tank in the heater-cooler machine.

Patient care is our top priority and as a precaution, approximately 21,000 adult and child patients who have had heart, heart transplant or lung transplant surgery in BC since January 1, 2011 will receive letters to let them know of this possible risk, even though the chances of infection are very low. 

Letters are being issued by Cardiac Services BC and BC’s cardiac centres – Vancouver General Hospital, St. Paul’s Hospital (Vancouver), Royal Columbian Hospital (New Westminster), Kelowna General Hospital, Royal Jubilee Hospital (Victoria) and BC Children’s Hospital (Vancouver).

At this time, we are not aware of any person in BC who has had this infection as a result of heart, heart transplant or lung transplant surgery. The BC Centre for Disease Control is investigating to determine if any patients in BC have had this infection as a result of exposure to a heater-cooler machine. 

All hospitals around the world that do surgery requiring heart-lung bypass use these machines, and are experiencing the same concerns and investigating further.

The chance of getting this infection from a heater-cooler machine during surgery is extremely low. There have only been two confirmed cases in Canada, both in Quebec. In BC, heater-cooler machines are cleaned and disinfected following the manufacturer’s instructions.

In addition to patient notification, we have alerted health care providers around the province to make them aware of this infection risk so they can monitor their patients.

What patients can do:
  • Patients who feel well don’t need to do anything. 
  • Patients who have any combination of these signs of infection lasting longer than a few days should see their doctor: Extremely tired all the time (fatigue); Weight loss; Unexplained fever or chills; Shortness of breath.
As these signs of infection are similar to many other common illnesses, they may not be caused by these bacteria.

  • Patients who have questions or concerns can call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1. Patients outside of BC can reach HealthLink BC by calling 604-215-8110. HealthLink BC is available any time of the day or night and in 130 languages. 
Quick facts:
  • Mycobacterium chimaera is commonly found in the environment (including in water and soil). 
  • They are typically not harmful to people who are exposed to them and they rarely cause illness in healthy people. Infection is more likely in people with weakened immune systems. 
  • The bacteria cannot be detected unless a person is showing signs of infection.
  • The bacteria grow very slowly so any signs of an infection may not appear for many months or years. In cases where this infection was linked to heart, heart transplant or lung transplant surgery, the signs appeared from three months to up to five years after surgery.
  • Infection from Mycobacterium chimaera can be treated with antibiotics.
  • This infection cannot be spread from one person to another.

Cardiac Services BC is an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority that is dedicated to ensuring all British Columbians have access to the best possible cardiac care. For more information, visit 

The BC Centre for Disease Control, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, provides provincial and national leadership in public health through surveillance, detection, treatment, prevention and consultation services. The Centre provides both direct diagnostic and treatment services for people with diseases of public health importance and analytical and policy support to all levels of government and health authorities. For more information, please visit or follow us on Twitter @CDCofBC.

The Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) plans, manages and evaluates selected specialty and province-wide health care services across BC, working with the five geographic health authorities to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit, or follow us on Twitter or Facebook 

For more information or to arrange an interview: 

Melissa Mueller
Corporate Communications
Provincial Health Services Authority
PHSA media line: 778-867-7472
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