15 Exposed to Fatal Brain Infection on Surgical Instruments

September 6, 2013 — At least 15 people have been exposed to a life-threatening hospital infection. Specialized surgical instruments were used on a now-deceased patient in New Hampshire, who was subsequently diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).

The instruments were re-used on at least 15 people in Massachusetts who had spinal cord surgery at Cape Cod Hospital between July and August 2013.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health:

“The potential exposure is limited to five Cape Cod Hospital patients who received procedures between June and August using the same device that was used on the New Hampshire patient. The CJD risk to the Massachusetts patients is extremely low, as those patients underwent spinal surgery and not brain surgery.”

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), also known as the human form of “mad cow” disease, is a degenerative brain disease that is invariably fatal. It appears to be caused by an abnormal protein called a prion, which is extremely difficult to eliminate with standard sterilization methods. Surgical instruments used on patients with CJD normally must be destroyed.

The disease causes rapid, progressive dementia. CJD belongs to a family of diseases called transmissable spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), and the characteristic appearance of infected brains become filled with holes until they resemble sponges under a microscope. There have been only 4 confirmed cases of CJD acquired through medical procedures, and none in the U.S.

Symptoms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)

  • Rapidly failing memory
  • Cognitive problems that get worse
  • Dementia
  • Personalty changes
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Involuntary movements (jerking)
  • Blindness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Coma
  • Death

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