Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease: 13 Patients Exposed to Fatal Disorder

Friday, 06 Sep 2013 12:51 PM

By Alexandra Ward

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Health officials said five people in Massachusetts may have been exposed to the fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease after doctors used possibly contaminated medical equipment to operate on them. Eight patients in New Hampshire are also being monitored.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said Thursday that the equipment used during five patient surgeries at Cape Cod Hospital between July and August had been involved in a prior surgery at Catholic Medical Center in New Hampshire. The prior surgery was reportedly on a patient now suspected of having died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CNN reported.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — a variant of which is responsible for the storied "mad cow disease" — is a neurological disorder that causes the progressive death of the brain's nerve cells and is always fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can be transmitted through contact with infected brain matter.

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Fewer than 400 people a year in the United States contract CJD, the CDC said. Early symptoms include memory loss and cognitive difficulty, which progresses to personality change, paranoia, and hallucinations, in some cases.

Normal equipment sterilization procedures don’t always fully eliminate all disease proteins, known as prions, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Eight patients at Catholic Medical Center, where the infected patient's original surgery took place, are also being monitored for symptoms of CJD, according to CNN.

"Our concern is with the health and well-being of the eight patients who may have been exposed to CJD," Dr. Joseph Pepe, Catholic Medical Center's CEO, said in a statement this week. "We will work closely with these families to help them in any way possible, even though the risk of infection is extremely low."

If confirmed, these would be the first cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease linked to tainted medical equipment since 1976, the CDC said.

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