The CDC warning pertains to nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), which has been found in the Stockert 3T heater-cooler device manufactured by the German company LivaNova. The device, which is somewhat similar in appearance to a portable air conditioner, is designed to help the body maintain a safe temperature during an invasive surgical procedure.
The device stores water in tanks in order to help regulate a patient’s body temperature. However, plaintiffs in heater-cooler device lawsuits allege that this water can be contaminated with NTM and then spread throughout an operating room. If this contaminated water enters a patient’s chest during a surgery, an NTM infection can occur.
People exposed to NTM typically suffer no ill effects. But when someone who has a compromised immune system – such as an open-heart surgery patient – is exposed to the bacteria, the resulting infection can be fatal. According to the CDC, patients in hospitals where NTM infections have been identified have between a 1-in-100 to 1-in-1,000 chance of developing an infection themselves.