New Hampshire Hospital Brain Disease Linked to Tainted Surgical Tools

At least one patient at a New Hampshire hospital has died from a serious brain disease, which is believed to have been caused by contaminated surgical tools, and several more patients may have also been exposed to a risk of infection from the same equipment.  

On September 4, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued a press release warning that one patient has died of sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) after neurosurgery and eight other patients who were operated on with the some of the same tools may have also been exposed. Sporadic CJD is similar, but not the same, as variant CJD, which is more commonly known as “mad cow disease.”

The patient, who has not been identified, died after neurosurgery at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester. The patient was operated on in May, and was later readmitted because of rapidly advancing dementia.

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Health experts are concerned about the spread of sporadic CJD, because the prion that causes the disease is not destroyed by standard sterilization processes required at U.S. hospitals. Sporadic CJD is very hard to diagnose while the patient is alive and can only be diagnosed with certainty through an autopsy.

New Hampshire health officials say they have notified the other patients who may have been exposed to the brain disease hospital infection.

“Our concern is with the health and well-being of the eight patients who may have been exposed to CJD,” said Dr. Joseph Pepe, president and CEO of Catholic Medical Center, in the press release. “We will work closely with these families to help them in any way possible, even though the risk of infection is extremely low.”

CJD is a rare disease that attacks the nervous system and deteriorates the brain. About one million people each year are affected worldwide, including about 200 annually in the United States. It is always fatal. 

In a study published last October in Archives of Neurology, researchers found that less than one-in-five patients suffering from CJD were correctly diagnosed.

Early symptoms can include cognitive problems and rapidly failing memory that progress much faster than Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Symptoms can also include personality changes, anxiety, depression, lack of coordination and visual problems. In later stages, patients may suffer mental deterioration, involuntary movement, blindness, weakness of extremities, and coma. No treatment or cure has yet been developed.

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