Eighteen neurological patients in North Carolina may have been exposed to an incurable and fatal degenerative brain disease while undergoing surgery at the Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. The hospital says that surgical instruments were insufficiently sterilized. Surgeons operated on the 18 patients in a three week period using tools that had not been sufficiently sanitized after they were used on a patient who had surgery on January 18. That patient later tested positive for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), the hospital in Winston-Salem said in a news release. Jeff Lindsay, president of the medical center, said at a news conference:
On behalf of the entire team at Novant Health, I apologize to the patients and their families for having caused this anxiety.
CJD causes failing memory, blindness, involuntary movement and coma, and kills 90 percent of patients within one year, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The incubation period – before initial symptoms surface – can last years. After the first sign of symptoms, patients die in an average of four months, according to the statement.
According to reports, the possibility of contracting the disease through surgical exposure is very remote. Kevin Howell, spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said the department is aware of the possible exposure of the 18 patients and is closely monitoring the situation. Last year, health officials said at least 15 patients in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire may have been exposed to the disease in a case similarly tied to unsanitary surgical instruments.
In North Carolina, the surgical instruments were sterilized using standard hospital procedures, but were not subjected to the enhanced sterilization procedures necessary on instruments used in confirmed or suspected cases of CJD, the hospital statement said. There are no treatments for the disease, which affects about 300 Americans each year. Every year, one in a million people around the world is diagnosed with the disease, which can be contracted through organ transplants or operations, according to Florence Kranitz, president of the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation. She said:
This is not something where there is a possibility they could operate and get rid of it. It is a 100 percent fatal brain disease robbing its victims of their humanity pretty fast.
It’s evident that the hospital made a most serious mistake and that has put 18 persons at risk. The emotional strain on the individuals and their families will be great. Hopefully and prayerfully, none of the patients involved will come down with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, but that won’t be known for a long time.
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