A patient who died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in New England was operated upon using equipment that may have infected several other subsequent patients, it was learned this week.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, colloquially called “mad cow disease” is always fatal when contracted, though rare in humans. An outbreak of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the UK in 90s brought a rash of deaths from the rare disease to the fore, and its transmissibility through contaminated materials and in the food supply was a large source of fear for many.
A patient in New England died recently, and an autopsy revealed that the woman — who had undergone surgery at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester — was infected with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Dr. Joseph Pepe, Catholic Medical Center’s CEO, said that at least five patients undergoing subsequent surgery were at a very low risk, explaining in a statement:
“Our concern is with the health and well-being of the eight patients who may have been exposed to CJD. We will work closely with these families to help them in any way possible, even though the risk of infection is extremely low.”
Pepe says the patients understood the circumstance, as the fatal prion is extremely difficult to detect and eradicate:
“They took it very well. I don’t believe that people were angry or extremely emotionally upset. We did the best job we could in trying to alleviate their fear.”
The Massachusetts Department of Health also addressed the CJD concerns, echoing the rarity of contracting the rapidly degenerative and always fatal disease through surgical contamination:
“The risk of contracting CJD from a surgical instrument is extremely low. There have been only four confirmed cases in the world, and none of these cases occurred in the U.S.”
At least five patients exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in July and August of 2013 have been counseled and notified following the woman’s autopsy and positive CJD diagnosis.