Surgery Patients Potentially Exposed To Rare Brain Disorder

Sep 4, 2013

Eight patients who underwent operations at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester may have been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakod Disease (CJD), a rare and fatal brain disorder that affects only one in a million people worldwide.

Public health officials say a patient underwent a successful procedure in May of this year to remove a brain cyst at Catholic Medical Center. The patient then began displaying symptoms for CJD, which causes cognitive difficulties and a rapidly failing memory.

The concern is that the protein that causes CJD isn't eradicated by standard sterilization processes, potentially exposing eight patients who had neurological procedures performed between May and August of this year.

"The risk to these individuals is considered extremely low," says Jose Montero, Director of Public Health in New Hampshire. "Our sympathies are with all of the patients and their families, as this may be a confusing and difficult situation."

There have only been four known cases of CJD spread through medical equipment: none in the United States, and none worldwide since 1976.

And it still isn't certain that the so-called 'index patient' died of CJD. Only a brain biopsy can confirm that as a cause of death, and results aren't expected for another 4 to 5 weeks.

"We couldn't conclude that there was no risk," says Montero, "so we are taking the step of notifying the patients and providing them with as much information as we can."

Catholic Medical Center has quarantined all of their medical devices used in the procedure, and are putting on hold all brain surgeries until the results of the biopsy are known.

Patients in other states may have been exposed because some of the tools used in the original procedure, including neuro probes, were rented by CMC. Those devices have been used in at least five other surgeries in other states, where investigators continue to look into possible exposures.

The state says the index patient may have had sporadic CJD, which is different than variant CJD, more commonly known as "Mad Cow Disease."