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Cabrini is a safe place for cardiac care

Date: 02/03/2017

Cabrini has detected no cases of Mycobacterium chimaera among patients who have had heart procedures with us.

For more than 30 years, Cabrini has been providing cardiac services to Victorians with the first open heart surgery conducted at Cabrini on 16 October 1985.

Since then, more than 14,000 open heart operations have been performed. A further 1800 minimally invasive procedures are undertaken every year. Today, with some 60 cardiologists and 12 cardiothoracic surgeons, the latest technology and technologically advanced facilities, more lives are saved at Cabrini than ever before.

Patients and their families may have heard about a rare bacterial infection Mycobacterium chimaera, which has affected three patients in Australia and 56 worldwide, and is linked to contamination in a heater/cooler unit used in cardiac surgery.

“While Cabrini has not detected any cases of Mycobacterium chimaera and the risk to our patients is low, we are taking no chances and are working closely with the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services on this issue,” said Executive Director of Medical Services Dr Peter Lowthian.

What is Mycobacterium chimaera?

Key points about this Mycobacterium chimaera are as follows:

  • This is a slow-growing micro-organism, which has developed into an infection among a small number of people six weeks to two years after their cardiac surgery
  • Effective treatments are available in the rare case of this infection
  • The problem has been linked to the water tanks of medical devices called heater/cooler units used in cardiac bypass surgery
  • These devices are used to keep the blood and medicines at the correct temperature during surgery on the heart
  • If present in the equipment, there is a risk it could enter the air in the operating theatre and potentially be transmitted to the patient
  • Even under these circumstances, the risk of patients catching this infection is low

There have been no Victorian patients identified with Mycobacterium chimaera since an international alert for regular testing of heater/cooler units was issued in 2016.

What has Cabrini done about the issue?
  • Cabrini has conducted a thorough investigation in relation to the risk of Mycobacterium chimaera and taken the following actions:
  • Completion of a detailed review of all patients who have had cardiac bypass surgery (including heart valve surgery or prosthetic coronary artery grafts) since July 2011
  • Examination of our heater/cooler units, identifying any machines that had been affected by the bacteria
  • Decontamination and/or replacement of any affected equipment and ordering new heater/cooler units

“We have written to 900 patients to inform them of the issue and encourage them to contact us with any questions, so that concerns may addressed,” said Dr Lowthian.

“To date, this infection has been linked with only 56 cases worldwide, with three in Australia and none in Victoria.

“Infections are a rare but well described complication of surgery including heart surgery and we do everything possible to manage these risks and ensure the safety and wellbeing of our patients.”

What are the signs?

Infections, including those due to Mycobacterium chimaera, may occur some months or years after surgery, with symptoms such as:

  • Unexplained fevers or night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Pain in the chest, and/or redness or signs of infection around the site of surgery
  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain

Importantly, these symptoms are not specifically related to Mycobacterium chimaera and may occur with any infection.

If you or a family member has any concerns or questions about possible infection, please contact Cabrini on ph (03) 9508 1222 and ask to speak with Cabrini’s Infection Control Coordinator Robyne Renton.

Further information is available on the Better Health Channel

Media information: contact Christine Elmer ph 0459 811 693 or