Health officials at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester New Hampshire have contacted eight patients who may have been exposed to a rare but fatal brain disease Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The patients underwent neurosurgery at Catholic Medical Center between May and August of this year. The surgical instruments used in these procedures were the same ones used in a patient who recently died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
According to the Boston Globe, “the equipment, rented from Minneapolis-based Medtronic, may have been used on five patients in other, unnamed states before health officials realized the instruments may have been contaminated with brain tissue from the initial patient. That person had brain surgery in May, but only last month was it discovered that the patient had symptoms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. . . Health officials said the standard methods for sterilizing surgical equipment does not kill the tiny proteins, known as prions, that cause the rare disease.
Dr. Joseph Pepe, Catholic Medical Center’s chief executive, said that in order to be “99.99” percent sure the equipment is sterilized completely after surgery, such harsh chemicals would need to be used that the instruments would be ruined. “It’s such a rarity, it’s just not practical,” he said. “No hospital throws out their instruments after each and every surgery.”
The incubation period for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the time between when patients were exposed and when they start experiencing symptoms, can be anywhere from a year to several decades, health officials said.