Emory University Hospital, Atlanta, is notifying about 500 patients of the "remote possibility" that they may have been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal condition similar to mad cow disease that infects about one person per million each year worldwide. The notifications began after a patient undergoing brain surgery tested positive for the condition Sept. 15. The hospital is awaiting preliminary confirmation of the diagnosis from a Cleveland specialty laboratory. In addition to 98 brain and spine-surgery patients, the 518-bed hospital also is contacting 418 non-neurosurgical patients who underwent procedures between Sept. 15 and Sept. 27.
Hospital officials said in a statement that there have been no known transmissions of the disease by surgical instruments in the past 28 years. "Although we believe the chances of an exposure are extremely small, we cannot guarantee they are zero," Allan Levey, chairman of neurology at Emory School of Medicine, said in the statement. "That is why Emory is taking every possible step to deal with this matter." All neurological equipment was re-sterilized Sept. 15 according to the most stringent standards recommended by the World Health Organization. -- by Michael Romano