Published On: Wed, Feb 12th, 2014

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: North Carolina hospital says at least 18 surgical patients exposed

Winston-Salem, North Carolina hospital, Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center announced Monday they learned that 18 neurosurgical patients within the last three weeks may have been exposed to a rare degenerative brain disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) while undergoing surgery at the hospital.

Human brain Image/NIH

Human brain

Forsyth Medical Center staff have reached out to all 18 patients to inform them of the potential risk, and all surgical instruments used in the surgeries have been put through enhanced sterilization procedures, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although the risk of getting the disease is very low, Novant Health believes it is important to share this information with patients, family members, and the community. Patients who underwent neurosurgery and were exposed already have been contacted directly by Novant Health.

On January 18, 2014, a medical team at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center performed a procedure on a patient with a neurological condition. Subsequently, the medical center was notified that lab results confirmed that the patient had CJD. Although the surgical instruments used during the patient’s surgery were sterilized using standard procedures for cleaning surgical instruments, they were not subjected to enhanced sterilization procedures necessary on instruments used in confirmed or suspected cases of CJD.

The patient had neurological symptoms that could have been attributed to CJD or another brain disease. Our standard procedure is to apply the enhanced sterilization process to surgical instruments that are used on any patient who is suspected or confirmed of having CJD in order to prevent possible transmission. There were reasons to suspect that this patient might have had CJD. As such, the extra precautions should have been taken, but were not.

Following the CJD confirmation, Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center instituted the enhanced sterilization process on all surgical instruments used in brain surgery. In addition, the hospital is following CDC recommendations and guidelines and working with state and local health officials to ensure the facility is taking necessary precautions to prevent this in the future.

“On behalf of Forsyth Medical Center, I want to offer my sincerest apology to the neurosurgical patients who may have been exposed to CJD while undergoing surgery at our hospital,” said Jeff Lindsay, Forsyth president and CEO. “We recognize that the risk to these patients is very small. However, we take any potential exposure seriously, and are here to support these individuals and their families both now and in the future. We have taken appropriate steps to prevent any future occurrence. We value the trust our patients place in us, and we remain fully committed to the health and safety of everyone who comes through our doors.”

CJD is a rapidly progressive degenerative nervous system disease. People with CJD rapidly lose motor control and function. They also suffer from a rapid decline in mental functioning leading to severe dementia. It is extremely rare. It affects about one in a million people each year worldwide. In the United States, only about 300 people are diagnosed with CJD each year. Patients who
are exposed have a very low risk of ever developing CJD. It often takes years or even decades after exposure for someone to develop symptoms of the disease.

More about CJD from the CDC

Related story: Kuru: A tale of cannibalism and rogue-proteins

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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