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N.H. Neuro Patients Potentially Exposed to Fatal Disease

Instruments may have been contaminated by patient who later died.

Published: September 5, 2013

At least 8 patients who underwent neurosurgery at a New Hampshire hospital have potentially been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, say state public health authorities.

According to the officials, a brain surgery patient treated in May at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester has died of the incurable, degenerative brain disease last month.

Because standard sterilization techniques cannot kill the proteins (or prions) that cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob, the instruments used during the patient's surgery may have been contaminated with the patient's brain tissue and exposed 8 other neurosurgery patients since May whose cases used the instruments.

The instruments, which were rented from device manufacturer Medtronic, are now reportedly quarantined, but may also have been used in 5 other patients' surgeries in other states, which the New Hampshire officials did not identify.

The hospital has notified the affected patients of what it describes as a low but present risk. As the disease is not transmitted by airborne or contact means, patients' families and other hospital patients are not at risk.

Regarding the instrument-based transmission, hospital chief executive Joseph Pepe, MD, noted that the chemical treatment required to rid instruments of the prions would almost certainly destroy the instruments. "[Creutzfeldt-Jakob is] such a rarity, it's just not practical," he said. "No hospital throws out their instruments after each and every surgery."

David Bernard

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