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Fifth Pa. patient dies after getting unusual infection

A fifth open-heart surgery patient has died at a central Pennsylvania hospital after contracting an unusual infection.

The patient, who underwent surgery at WellSpan York Hospital, was among eight who became infected in the past several years with nontuberculous mycobacteria - a common, slow-growing bug that rarely causes illness.

Earlier this week, Penn State Hershey Medical Center said three of its open-heart patients had contracted similar infections, two of whom died.

York Hospital has said the infections were likely a contributing factor in the original four deaths. Asked if infection contributed to the latest death, spokesman Brett Marcy said it was not "directly" linked.

Penn State said it had not linked the infections to the two deaths there.

The patients at both hospitals were severely ill before contracting the infections.

In all cases, the hospitals used a "heater-cooler" device to control the patients' body temperatures while they were on a heart-bypass machine.

These machines contain circulating water that does not come into direct contact with the patient. But infection-control experts suspect that if bacteria are present in the water, it can infect patients when it becomes aerosolized through the device's exhaust vent.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health required both hospitals to replace its heater-coolers.

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