Patients Potentially Exposed to Fatal Brain Disease in New Hampshire and Massachusetts

Date:January 27, 2014

Eight patients at Catholic Medical Center in NH and five patients at Cape Cod Hospital in MA are being monitored for signs of a fatal brain disease after potentially being exposed to contaminated medical equipment. The 13 patients underwent neurosurgery or spinal surgery at the hospitals this summer, and may have been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). All 13 patients have now been notified by public health officials.

Medical equipment used on the 13 patients was previously used on a patient suspected to have CJD, and was not properly sterilized after the procedure. Medical devices are generally sterilized using heat. However, the World Health Organization recommends equipment that may have come in contact with proteins that cause CJD be disinfected with caustic chemicals, as opposed to heat.

Tuesday, the NH Department of Health and Human Services announced that eight neurosurgery patients had potentially been exposed to contaminated surgical equipment.  Wednesday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced eight spinal surgery patients at Cape Cod Hospital were exposed to the same potentially contaminated instrument. The potentially contaminated medical equipment used at both hospitals is reportedly from the company Medtronic Inc.

The now-deceased patient had undergone neurosurgery at Catholic Medical Center, and an autopsy is now underway to confirm the presence of the proteins that cause CJD.

CJD strikes fewer than 400 people a year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Victims show signs of memory loss and cognitive difficulty early on; the ailment is “rapidly progressive and always fatal,” the CDC says.

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