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WASHINGTON — A device used during open-heart surgery that infected at least 12 patients at a Pennsylvania hospital last year was probably tainted at the plant in Germany where it was made, a federal investigation has found.

The device, called a heater-cooler machine, uses water to regulate the temperature of patients having heart surgery. The water does not come into contact with the patient, but bacteria can be transmitted through the air from the device’s exhaust vent.

That seems to be what happened to 12 heart patients at a hospital in York last year. The heater-cooler machine was contaminated with Mycobacterium chimaera, bacteria that can be found in soil and water. Six patients died, though officials said it was not clear whether the infection was the primary cause. The infection was identified at other hospitals, too.

It was not clear at the time exactly how people had been infected. So disease sleuths from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Health Department took samples from 11 patients and five devices from hospitals in Pennsylvania and Iowa, two of the states where clusters of infections had been identified. There were also infections in Europe.


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