Eighteen people who recently underwent surgery at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, may have been exposed to a fatal, incurable degenerative brain disease because surgical instruments used in their operations were insufficiently sterilized.
A statement from the hospital on Monday said that in the past three weeks surgeons performed 18 surgeries using tools that had not been sufficiently sterilized after use in a surgery for a patient who later tested positive for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), Reuters reports. CJD causes dementia, blindness, involuntary movement, difficulty speaking and swallowing, and eventually leads to coma and death, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The institute says that 90 percent of patients die within one year of symptoms appearing, though the incubation period can last for years. CJD can be contracted through organ transplants and surgery, the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation says.
The surgical instruments involved in the operations were sterilized according to standard hospital procedures, but were not given the enhanced sterilization necessary for instruments that have been used in confirmed or suspected cases of CJD. Normal sterilization reduces, but does not eradicate, the microscopic protein that causes CJD, Reuters reports. According to the Mayo Clinic web site, some hospitals destroy any instruments used on the brain or nervous system of patients with known or suspected CJD.
Worldwide, about one person in a million is diagnosed with CJD each year, about 300 in the U.S., Reuters reports. Doctors have not found any effective treatments. Last year, in a similar episode, at least 15 patients in New England may have been exposed to CJD through insufficiently sanitized surgical instruments, according to Reuters.