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Are hospitals entirely clean? Scientists identified a source of a dangerous infection

Posted February 13, 2017

Everyone, who for some reason or another has to stay in a hospital and have a surgery, expects Premium care. However, some people in Australia recently got infected with mycobacterium chimaera after a heart surgery. Now a new study from The University of Melbourne revealed that the reason of this infection is machines commonly used to regulate body temperature.

Surgeries require complex machinery, which sometimes have some manufacturing defects of design flaws. Image credit: Pfree2014 via Wikimedia, CC-BY-SA-4.0

The machine to blame is called the LivaNova Stockert 3T. For a long time it was believed that hospital equipment is well maintained and taken care of and thus should not transmit any viruses. But that turned out to be not true in this particular case as this machine was spreading mycobacterium chimaera, which can cause serious illness. There are good news, however. Firstly, the disease can be cured with antibiotics and in most cases does not leave any effects afterwards. Secondly, scientists managed to identify the source of the bacteria and can now eliminate it.

Interestingly, a short investigation showed that it is not the fault of hospitals in any way – machines were contaminated in manufacturing process. Dr Deborah Williamson, a scientist involved in the investigation, explained: “We think aerosols from the contaminated heater and cooler units drop into the sterile field during surgery and cause an infection. It’s a very hardy pathogen and, because it causes a latent infection, symptoms may not appear for months after surgery”. This risk of a potential infection during a cardiac surgery should be eliminated immediately now that they know the source of the problem. Scientists analysed 48 samples from the heating and cooling units in question and patients.

Of course, just knowing the problem is not enough as one could not expect that similar manufacturing defects will never happen again. Scientists are now developing a quick testing method for machine contamination and to detect Mycobacterium chimaera infection in patients. Unique DNA traces of this particular infection will be the key of developing such test. Such test could be used to identify contaminants in the equipment of diagnosing patients before they show symptoms. Scientists say that potentially such test could save lives.

Complex machinery used in hospitals is manufactured with high standards of precision and cleanliness. However, sometimes there are design flaws or manufacturing defects that are not easy to catch. That is why constant improvements are needed and this study just proves it once more.


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