Rare Brain Disease: 18 Patients Possibly Exposed in NC Surgeries

Wednesday, 12 Feb 2014 05:15 PM

By Jonna Lorenz

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Eighteen patients may have been exposed to a rare and fatal brain disease at the Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in North Carolina when surgical instruments used to operate on the patients weren’t sufficiently sterilized.

The tools had been used on a patient who later tested positive for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Reuters reported.

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"On behalf of the entire team at Novant Health, I apologize to the patients and their families for having caused this anxiety," Hospital President Jeff Lindsay said, according to Reuters.

The chance that the patients contracted the disease is very remote, according to the hospital, but it can take years for symptoms to appear.

The instruments used in the surgeries were sterilized but reportedly not to the stricter standards used when coming in contact with a patient with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

Since 1976, no patients have been reported to have contracted the disease from tainted medical equipment, according to the Los Angeles Times. Still, hospitals have warned patients of the possible risk of infection.

In 2011, patients in Georgia received a monetary settlement from Emory University after receiving warnings about the disease.

About 20 similar incidents of potential exposure to the disease have been reported since 1998, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Novant Health officials said an immediate change has been made to ensure all instruments used on brain surgery go through an enhanced sterilization process.

In light of this event, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will reemphasize the importance of following CDC guidelines, Medical Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore said, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease affects about one in a million people worldwide each year, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The invariably fatal disease causes mental deterioration, blindness, and coma, and kills about 90 percent of infected people within a year of the onset of symptoms.

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