As many as 18 patients who underwent neurosurgery at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., may have been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and always fatal brain disorder. The hospital says the incident should not have happened, and officials are looking into why there was a lapse in the recommended protocol.
One patient showed symptoms often associated with the disorder, and the diagnosis was later confirmed by tests. In the meantime, the surgical instruments used on that patient did not undergo the enhanced sterilization recommended to eliminate the possibility that the instruments could infect other patients in subsequent procedures.
As a result, Forsyth Medical Center has notified 18 patients who have since undergone procedures using the instruments that they may have been exposed to the disease, which is characterized by rapidly progressive dementia.
“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,” Jeff Lindsay, the hospital's president and CEO, said in a press release. “We recognize that the risk to these patients is very small. However, we take any potential exposure seriously.” The hospital says it is taking every necessary precaution to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.
In 2013, there were reports of at least 15 patients who had been exposed to CJD at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, N.H., and at least five exposures were reported at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Ma.
In the New England cases and in the recent North Carolina exposure, the patients suffered from sporadic CJD, which is caused by spontaneous transformation of normal proteins into abnormal prions, rather than by infection from another source.
Although the condition is rare—and transmission of it via surgical instruments is extremely rare—some advocates say hospitals should be more vigilant, given the recent upsurge in potential exposures. Follow Sabriya Rice on Twitter: @MHsrice