By Richard Valdmanis
BOSTON, Sept 5 Thirteen people who recently
underwent neurosurgery in Massachusetts and New Hampshire may
have been exposed to a rare and fatal brain condition similar to
"mad cow" disease because of potentially infected surgical
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said on
Thursday that five patients treated at Cape Cod Hospital between
June and August are at low risk of infection for the disease,
called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). On Wednesday, New
Hampshire announced eight patients treated at a hospital in New
Hampshire may also have been exposed.
Surgical instruments used on the patients may have become
infected with the microscopic protein that causes CJD after they
were initially used on someone now suspected of having carried
Normal sterilization procedures at hospitals reduce, but do
not eradicate, the protein that causes CJD.
"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," it said.
However, there is no way to test for CJD. The disease can
only be confirmed by an autopsy.
A spokeswoman for Medtronic Inc, Cindy Resman, said
a surgical kit of instruments it provided was used in the
original New Hampshire case and all of the five Massachusetts
cases. She said the instruments were also used on two patients
in a third state, but declined to name that state.
"The instruments included a metal reference frame and brace
used in surgical navigation during the procedure," she said.
A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts health body, Anne Roach,
said the instruments used on all the patients were routinely
cleaned before and after uses, but that "the prion that causes
sporadic CJD is not completely eradicated by the standard
sterilization process mandated at hospitals."
New Hampshire had warned on Wednesday that eight patients
who recently underwent neurosurgery at the Manchester hospital
may have been exposed as a result of potentially infected
instruments. It said an autopsy was being performed on the
original patient to test for the presence of sporadic CJD. Those
results have not yet been released.
Officials in both states said there is no risk to the
general public and that all 15 patients who may have been
exposed have been notified.
Sporadic CJD is similar to "mad cow" disease but not linked
to beef consumption. It crops up spontaneously without a known
cause. There is no known treatment or cure for the condition,
which has symptoms including failing memory, personality
changes, blindness and sudden jerky movements.