Diversity of nontuberculous mycobacteria in Heater-Cooler Devices - results from prospective surveillance

J Hosp Infect. 2020 Mar 6;S0195-6701(20)30105-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2020.03.006. Online ahead of print.


Objective: The international outbreak of cardiac surgery-associated Mycobacterium chimaera infections was traced back to infectious aerosols originating from contaminated water reservoirs of heater-cooler devices (HCD). In general, nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) frequently colonize water systems and can contaminate medical devices. Data on detection of NTM other than M. chimaera in samples gathered from HCDs are scarce. The present study summarizes prospective mycobacterial surveillance of five HCDs over more than four years.

Methods: A cohort of five, in 2014 factory-new acquired, LivaNova 3T (London, UK) HCDs were prospectively followed. Until mid-April 2014 HCDs were maintained according to the manufacturer's recommendations, subsequently according to an intensified in-house protocol including exhaust air evacuation. Mycobacterial surveillance cultures consisted of monthly water samples gathered from patient and cardioplegia circuits, as well as airflow samples.

Results: Out of 441 water samples, 170 (38.6%) revealed NTM growth. The most frequently detected NTM were Mycobacterium chimaera (n=120 (67.4%)), Mycobacterium gordonae (n=35 (19.7 %)), and Mycobacterium paragordonae (n=17 (9.6%)). Growth of NTM, M. chimaera and M. paragordonae was significantly more common in water samples derived from the patient than the cardioplegia circuit of the HCD. Three (2.0%) out of 150 air samples grew NTM.

Conclusion: Growth of NTM in HCD water samples was frequent. Diverse NTM species were detected, with M. chimaera being most common. The majority of air samples remained negative. The relevance of NTM other than M. chimaera contaminating HCDs is poorly defined, but a recent report on a HCD-associated outbreak with Mycobacterium abscessus confirms a potential threat.