Mass. officials say 5 may be exposed brain disease

BOSTON (AP) — The state health department says five patients in Massachusetts may have been exposed to a fatal brain disease from the same specialized surgical instrument used on a patient in New Hampshire who was subsequently suspected to have the disease.

The Massachusetts Department of Health said Thursday that the five patients had procedures this summer at Cape Cod Hospital. They are believed to be at low risk because they had spinal procedures and not brain surgery.

The DPH said the patients may have been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

The health department said the five Massachusetts patients have been notified and counseled, and there is no risk to hospital staff or the general public.

Officials at Cape Cod Hospital said the chances of any of the five patients contracting the fatal disease are “infinitesimally small.”

They said the equipment used on the Cape Cod Hospital patients between June and August is owned by Medtronic, Inc. and was sterilized on four separate occasions after it was used on the patient in New Hampshire.

Hospital officials declined to give the ages or sexes of the five patients.

New Hampshire officials said Wednesday eight people may have been exposed there to the rare disease believed to have caused the death of a brain surgery patient.

While it can survive standard sterilization procedures, officials at Cape Cod Hospital said they are confident there is little risk to the five patients who were treated using the equipment

“The sterilization process that we use at Cape Cod Hospital gives us a high degree of reassurance that the risk to patients is very, very low,” said Cape Cod Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Donald Guadagnoli.

The piece of equipment is currently out of circulation, officials said.

Officials said there have been just four documented cases in last 40 years linked to transmission of the disease by contaminated instruments — none of them in the United States and none in recent decades.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is always fatal and symptoms may not begin to show for a long time. Hospital officials said any testing of patients now would not yield any useful information.

Doctors at Cape Cod Hospital say they will continue to monitor the five patients for the next year and beyond.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease cannot be transmitted through the air, sneezing, coughing, touching or most other forms of casual contact. Normal social contact with a patient doesn’t transmit the disease.

The most common form of the disease is caused by the spontaneous transformation of normal proteins into abnormal prions.

In the United States, only about 200 people are diagnosed with the disease each year. It affects about one in a million people each year worldwide.

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