2,000 heart op patients here warned over infection risk
Almost 2,000 patients in Northern Ireland who have had heart operations have been warned they may have been exposed to a rare bacterial infection.
The Belfast Health Trust has written to patients who have had open heart surgery since January 2013.
The letter said the infection was linked to medical equipment used during surgery.
The Public Health Agency has since advised that no one in Northern Ireland is believed to have died from the infection.
However, out of 28 reported cases across the UK, 15 individuals have died of the infection since before 2015.
A statement from the Belfast Trust on Tuesday stressed there was a "very low risk" of infection for patients here and the warning was a precaution.
"Only patients who have had heart valve replacement or valve repair surgery, including procedures undertaken as part of congenital heart disease surgery, since January 2013 are being contacted," the statement read.
The warning follows concerns that some of the heater-cooler devices used to keep blood and organs at the correct temperature during surgery may have been infected by the bacteria Mycobacterium chimaera.
The statement continued: "Work is ongoing to further evaluate and reduce the risk associated with these devices, as well as increase clinical and patient awareness."
Potential symptoms of the infection include fever, unexplained weight loss, shortness of breath, night sweats, joint or muscle pain, nausea or vomiting.
Jayne Murray, head of British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland, urged those concerned to contact their GP.
"We are pleased that Belfast Health and Social Care Trust is taking prompt action to inform patients who might be at risk," she said.
"We want to reassure people that the chance of being affected is very small.
"However, if people are worried or feel unwell, they should see their doctor immediately."