Rare Brain Disease Exposure in the OR

Massachusetts patients exposed to Creutzfeldt Jakob disease through contaminated medical equipment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Several surgery patients in New England were recently told that they may have gotten more than they bargained for when they went under the knife.

According to New England health officials, 13 patients might be at risk of exposure to Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (CJD), a rare brain disorder, after having had surgery. The risk is tied to a possibly contaminated medical device used during their procedures.

State authorities reported that the risk of exposure to the disease does not extend beyond these 13 patients.

"Discuss operating room procedures with your surgeon."

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), CJD is a rare, degenerative and usually fatal brain disease. About 90 percent of CJD patients die within one year of developing the disorder.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) reported that the five patients in that state are at a "low risk for exposure" to CJD. The risk developed after they had surgical procedures at Cape Cod Hospital using a specialized medical device that may have been contaminated.

"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," explained DPH.

New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported that eight neurosurgery patients in that state might have been exposed after their surgeries at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester.

All of the potentially exposed patients had procedures between June and August using the same device, an instrument from Medtronic, Inc. DPH reported that Medtronic is working closely with health officials in the investigation.

NINDS estimates that CJD affects one out of every million people across the globe. There are about 200 cases of CJD in the US every year.

Early symptoms of CJD include issues with memory, coordination, vision and behavioral changes.

"As the illness progresses, mental deterioration becomes pronounced and involuntary movements, blindness, weakness of extremities, and coma may occur," explains NINDS.

According to NINDS, in the most common form of CJD (at least 85 percent of cases), the disease develops in someone with no known risk factors. The disease can also be hereditary, as is the case in around 5 to 10 percent of US cases.

In fewer than 1 percent of cases, CJD can be acquired when brain or nervous system tissue is exposed to the disease. It is this form of the disease that has sparked concern for the New England patients.

"The CJD risk to the Massachusetts patients is extremely low, as those patients underwent spinal surgery and not brain surgery," noted DPH. "The five patients have been notified and counseled, and there is no risk to hospital staff or members of the public."

Review Date: 
September 7, 2013
Last Updated:
September 9, 2013