Hospital Patients Potentially Exposed to Deadly Brain Disease

deadly_brain_infectionPotentially tainted Medtronic equipment is being blamed for a warning just issued over a serious, fatal, brain condition.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, five patients were treated at Cape Cod Hospital between June and August. Another eight patients who were treated at a New Hampshire hospital were also potentially exposed, according to Reuters. The potentially tainted equipment, in some cases, may have been rented in other states, NBC News reported.

Medtronic Inc. spokeswoman, Cindy Resman, told Reuters that the surgical kit of instruments it provided was used in the original New Hampshire all five Massachusetts cases. The instruments were used on two patients in a third state, but would not say what that state is. “The instruments included a metal reference frame and brace used in surgical navigation during the procedure,” she said.

As we’ve written, the equipment used in the surgeries may have been shared with a now-deceased patient who died from what officials believe to be Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services told NBC News. That patient is believed to have been sickened with sporadic form of the disabling and deadly disorder that affects the nervous system.

In its sporadic form, CJD occurs spontaneously, explained NBC News. In its variant form, CJD is known as “mad cow disease” and is typically tied to consuming contaminated beef. The only way to confirm CJD is through an autopsy, which is underway on the now-deceased patient at the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center, said officials. Autopsy results will not be available for about four weeks and officials are not releasing any information on the patient, according to NBC News.

Prion is an infected organism that is mostly composed of protein folds. Traditional sterilization processes at hospitals cannot remove the prion involved with CJD, NBC News noted. Reuters explained that the microscopic prion can only be reduced, not eliminated, by normal sterilization procedures at hospitals.

“The risk of CJD exposure from the instrument was first identified by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services after the device was used on a patient in New Hampshire, who was subsequently suspected to have CJD,” the Massachusetts health body said in a press release. “The CJD risk to the Massachusetts patients is extremely low, as those patients underwent spinal surgery and not brain surgery,” according to the release.

There is no cure for the deadly brain disease.

“The risk to these individuals is considered extremely low,” Dr. José Montero, Director of Public Health at DHHS, said in a statement, according to NBC News. “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. Our sympathies are with all of the patients and their families, as this may be a confusing and difficult situation.” Health workers, other patients, and the public are not at risk, according to officials.

CJD is diagnosed in about 1 million people annually; 200 cases are diagnosed in the United States. Initial symptoms may include rapidly failing memory, cognitive problems, personality changes, anxiety, depression, coordination issues, and visible disturbances. In its later stages, CJD can cause jerky movements, blindness, weak limbs, and coma.

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