Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Diagnosis Causes Arkansas Hospital to Shut Down All Operating Rooms

Washington Regional Medical Center (WRMC) in Arkansas has shut down all of its operating rooms and canceled all surgical procedures after a confirmed case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal degenerative brain disease. 

Often confused with “Mad Cow” disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is spread by a type of protein called prions. They are extremely difficult to clean from medical instruments, and some fear they could be transmitted via surgical instruments that are thought to be sterile.

WRMC issued a press release today announcing that a patient who underwent a diagnostic lumbar puncture at the hospital on February 15 was confirmed on Tuesday with a preliminary diagnosis of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. However, the center also notes that no confirmed case of the brain disease has been spread by surgical instruments since 1976.

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“Out of an abundance of caution and a desire to ensure the safety of patients and staff, upon receiving the lab results WRMC immediately shut all operating rooms,” the press release states. “WRMC conducted a thorough sterilization and replaced certain surgical instruments, in adherence with recommendations of the World Health Organization.”

The incident comes two years after a similar incident at a North Carolina hospital. In February, 2014 the Novant health Forsyth Medical Center warned that at least 18 patients may have been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease through the same medical instruments as used on a patient later diagnosed with the disease.

The incident is nearly identical to one that occurred in September 2013, when a patient from Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, New Hampshire died from sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease after undergoing neurosurgery.

That patient was operated on in May, but was later readmitted after dementia quickly set in. Health officials believe the patient was suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease at the time the surgery occurred. The same surgical instruments were used on at least 15 other patients at Catholic Medical Center and Cape Cod Hospital in Massachusetts, investigators say, raising concerns that those patients could have been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease due to contamination.

Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease affects one in one million people each year, approximately 200 to 300 people annually. It strikes for no reason and is almost always fatal. Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease is only detectable by autopsy or brain biopsy after death.

The prions eventually kill the healthy cells and create holes in the brain. Brain tissue from infected persons can infect a healthy brain.

When symptoms develop they may include rapidly deteriorating memory and cognitive function. It often progresses much faster than Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Other symptoms may include anxiety, depression and personality changes. Symptoms may progress to include involuntary movement, blindness, muscle weakness and coma. No treatment or cure has been developed.

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