Patients who underwent neurosurgery at a New Hampshire hospital may have been exposed to a rare, fatal brain disease because the surgery equipment that was used was infected. The eight patients who were potentially exposed to the disease at Catholic Medical Center have been notified.
Officials say it’s possible that the surgical instruments were initially contaminated when they were used on a patient that had symptoms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Patients in five other states may have also have been exposed to the disease. Creutzfeldt-Jakob is similar, but not related, to "mad cow" disease.
The equipment was rented from Minneapolis-based Medtronic. Apparently standard methods for sterilizing surgical equipment do not kill the tiny proteins, known as prions, which cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob.
Health officials stress that the risk to the patients who may have been exposed is low.
“But after extensive expert discussion, we could not conclude that there was no risk, so we are taking the step of notifying the patients and providing them with as much information as we can,” said Dr. José Montero, the director of public health at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. “Our sympathies are with all of the patients and their families, as this may be a confusing and difficult situation.”
Once infected, symptoms might not appear for several decades, Boston.com reported.
“Once symptoms appear the average time to death is about four months,” said Dr. Joseph Pepe, Catholic Medical Center’s chief executive. “There is no treatment, there is no cure.”
About one in a million people worldwide are infected with Creutzfeldt-Jakob. About 200 people in the United States are diagnosed each year.