Patients Possibly Exposed to a Fatal Brain Disease

patients_exposed_brain_diseaseMore than one dozen patients may have been exposed to a deadly brain disease for which there is no cure after undergoing surgery in which potentially tainted equipment was used.

State officials announced that up to 13 patients may have been exposed through potentially contaminated surgical equipment that used at a New Hampshire Hospital, according to NBC News. Eight of the neurosurgery patients in New Hampshire and up to five patients in other states were warned that the equipment used in their 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.

The patient is believed to have had the sporadic form of the disabling and deadly disorder that affects the nervous system. When in its sporadic form, the disease 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.

An autopsy on the patient is underway 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.

The potentially tainted equipment, in some cases, may have been rented in other states. The prion—an infected organism that is mostly composed of protein folds—involved with CJD cannot be removed by traditional sterilization processes at hospitals, NBC News noted.

The potentially impacted patients have been advised. “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, for which there is no cure, 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.

We just wrote that some serious infections originate at hospitals and cost billions of dollars in medical treatments each year. We also previously wrote that an unnamed surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center was linked to an outbreak of hospital staph that infected five cardiac patients. The surgeon suffered from an inflammation on his hand at the time that he implanted replacement heart valves into five patients, according to a prior NBC Los Angeles report. Although the surgeon wore gloves during the procedure, the gloves developed microscopic tears, the hospital said. These tears, said Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, resulted in the infection being passed to at least five patients who then became infected with the Staphylococcus epidermidis bacteria.

We’ve also long reported on the escalating issues with Staphylococcus infections, specifically MRSA, a type of staph that causes infections resistant to most antibiotics and which has sickened tens of thousands of Americans annually in recent years. Without treatment or with incorrect diagnosis and treatment, MRSA spreads rapidly, leading to respiratory failure and surgeries, attacking vital organs like the lungs and heart. Survivors are not always returned to their pre-MRSA condition, losing limbs, hearing, and full use of damaged organs. About 100,000 cases of invasive MRSA occur annually in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); most occur in hospitals and other health-care settings. In the U.S., MRSA kills some 20,000 people annually.

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