Tens of thousands of patients in Britain have been told they could have contracted potentially fatal bacteria from contaminated medical equipment used to carry out open heart surgery. The warning is set to be issued to a total of 47,000 patients after 15 people died as a result of the bug, which can lie dormant in the body for up to five years. Meanwhile, another nine people are currently in a critical condition. Among those who have died was fisherman Alan Diplock, who passed away at the age of 65 three years after having a heart op.
Affected patients include children. Health bosses have confirmed that a seven year old child is among those affected by the crisis, but have not said whether they survived. There are now worries that thousands of people may have the infection, which is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium chimaera. This bug essentially destroys healthy blood cells and patients affected have developed heart infections and abscesses.
It is understood that health bosses have been aware of the issue since 2014. However, they have only decided to act now. Up to 47,000 patients who have had heart valve procedures since January 2013, are expected to be told they could be at risk. The infection is treatable with antibiotics, but it can prove fatal. Patients will be given a checklist of symptoms and will be told to go straight to their doctor if they are suffering from any of them.
The warning comes as it has emerged that at least two families who have lost loved ones as a result of the bug are launching law suits against the National Health Service. They claim that their family members’ lives could have been saved if they had been warned earlier. The source of the infection is understood to be a machine used to heat and cool blood outside the body while heart procedures are taking place.