NTM Questions and Answers

What is the situation?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has notified all hospitals of a potential bacteria exposure to patients that has been linked to heater-cooler devices on heart/lung bypass machines.

How have Spectrum Health and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital responded to this issue?

We have consistently exceeded manufacturer guidelines for disinfecting and maintaining the machines. We immediately implemented, and even exceeded, recommendations issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in October 2015. We replaced our heater-cooler machines to help minimize the risk for our patients. We also started an ongoing monitoring process that exceeds the standard equipment requirements and will help avoid future risk of infection.

What specific type of bacteria is involved?

The bacterium is Nontuberculous Mycobacterium (NTM). This is common in the environment and is typically not harmful. In rare cases, NTM can cause infections in patients who have had certain major heart and lung surgeries.

How are heater-cooler devices associated with NTM exposure during surgery?

Heater-cooler devices are used to warm or cool a patient during surgeries requiring a heart/lung bypass machine. NTM can grow in the water in the heater-cooler devices. One European study has shown that NTM was detected in the air of an operating room while a contaminated heater-cooler device was running.

What types of surgeries place patients at risk for this infection?

Only surgeries using a heart/lung bypass machine carry this very low risk. Specifically, this includes major heart surgeries. Patients having other surgeries are not at risk because they do not require the use of a heater-cooler device in combination with a heart/lung bypass machine.

What are the chances of getting an NTM infection?

The chances are very low—estimated to be less than one percent.

Is this a risk at other hospitals?

Yes. This is a risk at other hospitals in the U.S. and Europe that use these heater-cooler devices during surgeries.

Has Spectrum Health had any patients with this infection?

Yes. Two adult patients have been diagnosed with the NTM infection.

What are the symptoms of an NTM infection?

Symptoms of NTM infection may include a fever lasting more than one week, pain, redness, heat or pus around a surgical incision, night sweats, joint pain, muscle pain, loss of energy, and failure to gain weight or grow (in infants).

Because the bacterium grows slowly, it can take several months or years for symptoms of an infection to develop.

Is this infection treatable?

Any infection involving the heart is serious – there are treatments available, but every patient is unique.

If I have been exposed to the NTM infection, is my family at risk of getting the infection?

No. An infection caused by NTM is not contagious. It cannot be spread by contact with those who have been exposed or have this infection.

How can I find out if I have this infection?

If you have or develop symptoms, please call our nurse phone line 844.689.2875 or 616.391.9986. If you do not have symptoms, you do not require testing.