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Medical Instruments Spread a Deadly Brain Disease to Surgery Patients

Doctors in New Hampshire recently confirmed that fifteen people have possibly be exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease - an often deadly brain disease

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Doctors in New Hampshire recently confirmed that fifteen people have possibly be exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease—an often deadly brain disease.

It all started when a patient underwent neurosurgery at a hospital in the spring. According to NBC, that patient’s autopsy then came back positive for CJD. Since then, fifteen patients have been warned that they could be at risk of catching the disease from tainted surgical equipment. NBC explains:

The problem arose because standard hospital disinfection techniques cannot eradicate the prion that causes CJD. A prion is a protein and the type that causes BSE and CJD is misfolded and somehow manages to transform other proteins into disease-causing shape.

There are many variants of CJD, one of which is associated with mad cow disease. The one in question in New Hampshire, however, is not a mad-cow strain. According to NBC, CJD affects about one in a million people each year, and this isn’t the first time hospital equipment might have spread the disease:

This is not the first time contaminated hospital equipment has been implicated in potentially spreading CJD. In 2000, 14 patients in two separate incidents were exposed. The Joint Commission, an accrediting agency, this month reiterated guidelines urging hospitals to have a high degree of suspicion about CJD even when the diagnosis is not confirmed and to follow World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control guidance on sterilization or disposal of the tools.

Those who came in contact with CJD also might not know whether they have it for fifty years. There’s no test for the disease for living people, says Greg Botelho from CNN, so patients will simply have to wait to see whether they develop symptoms.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Brain-Eating Crows May Help Spread Prion Diseases

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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