Purpose of review: Mycobacterium chimaera infections following cardiac surgery have been reported from an increasing number of countries. These infections are characterized by a poor prognosis with a case fatality rate around 50% despite treatment. Since the first description in 2013, our understanding has grown steadily. Several outbreak investigations, case series, and experiments with heater–cooler units (HCUs) have been published. This review summarizes the current knowledge.
Recent findings: M. chimaera transmission occurs during cardiopulmonary bypass via bioaerosols emitted from contaminated HCU water systems. Manifestations of M. chimaera infection comprise endocarditis, vascular graft infections, surgical site infections, and dissemination. So far, all cases were exposed to a single HCU brand. Samples from the manufacturing site as well as clonality of M. chimaera strains isolated from HCUs and patients suggest a contamination already at time of delivery representing the main source for the outbreak. Nevertheless, HCU contamination in hospitals cannot be excluded.
Summary: Improved awareness of physicians of M. chimaera infection is crucial to prompt adequate diagnostic workup in patients that have been exposed to HCU presenting with compatible symptoms. For risk mitigation, strict separation between the air volume in contact with HCUs and critical clinical areas such as operating rooms is essential.