Patients May Have Been Exposed To Fatal Brain Disease
September 7, 2013

Massachusetts, New Hampshire Patients May Have Been Exposed To Fatal Brain Disease

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Thirteen New England neurosurgery patients could have been exposed to a rare, fatal brain condition known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), officials from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced on Thursday.

According to Reuters reporter Richard Valdmanis, eight patients treated at a Manchester, New Hampshire hospital and five others treated at Cape Cod Hospital in Boston might have been exposed to the disease – which is similar in nature to “mad cow” disease – due to a medical device used at both medical facilities.

“The risk of CJD exposure from the instrument was first identified by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services after the device was used on a patient in New Hampshire, who was subsequently suspected to have CJD,” the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said in a statement, according to Reuters. “The CJD risk to the Massachusetts patients is extremely low, as those patients underwent spinal surgery and not brain surgery.”

Health officials in that state told Valdmanis that the five Cape Cod Hospital patients were treated between June and August and were said to be at low risk of CJD infection. Previously, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the eight patients treated at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester had been contacted by the hospital’s president.

Anne Roach, a spokeswoman with the Massachusetts health organization, told Reuters that the device was manufactured by Medtronic Inc., but could not immediately identify the unit in question or explain how the infection could have survived a period of multiple months.

“Officials believe the extremely rare disease caused the August death of a patient who had brain surgery at the hospital in May, although the cause of death won’t be certain until more tests are completed,” the AP said. “If that patient had Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, there’s a remote chance it was transmitted to other brain surgery patients because the abnormal proteins that cause the disease can survive standard sterilization practices.”

Unlike “mad cow” disease, CJD is not associated with beef consumption. It is a brain disease characterized by rapidly progressive dementia that can occur spontaneously and without a known cause. There is no treatment or cure for the condition, which can be fatal within months after the appearance of the first symptoms. However, officials assured Valdmanis that there is no risk to the general public, and that all patients have already been notified.

“About 200 cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are recorded annually in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health, with the vast majority occurring spontaneously,” the AP said. “In fewer than 1 percent of cases, the disease is transmitted by exposure to brain or nervous system tissue, and there have been only four reported cases of transmission via surgical instruments” – none of which occurred in the US.