Possible Patient Exposure to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Catholic Medical Center (CMC), and the Manchester Health Department (MHD) announce that neurosurgery on a patient at CMC, who is now suspected to have had Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), may have resulted in the exposure of eight other neurosurgery patients. The only way to 100% diagnose CJD is through autopsy, which is currently under way at the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center.

This patient is believed to have sporadic CJD, meaning it happens spontaneously with no known cause. Sporadic CJD is not variant CJD, also known by the nickname "mad cow disease," which is transmitted by eating contaminated beef.

The eight patients were potentially exposed through neurosurgical equipment, because the prion that causes sporadic CJD is not eradicated by the standard sterilization process mandated at hospitals. CMC has notified all of these patients about their potential risk. The general public and any other patients at CMC and their employees are not at any risk.

"The risk to these individuals is considered extremely low," says Dr. José Montero, director of public health at DHHS, "but after extensive expert discussion, we could not conclude that there was no risk, so we are taking the step of notifying the patients and providing them with as much information as we can. Our sympathies are with all of the patients and their families, as this may be a confusing and difficult situation."

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a rare and fatal disease that affects the nervous system and causes deterioration of the brain. It affects about one in a million people each year worldwide. In the United States, only about 200 people are diagnosed with CJD each year.

"Our concern is with the health and well-being of the eight patients who may have been exposed to CJD," says Dr. Joseph Pepe, MD, president and CEO of CMC. "We will work closely with these families to help them in any way possible, even though the risk of infection is extremely low."

In the early stages of CJD, the patient may have rapidly failing memory and other cognitive difficulties. These symptoms become worse much faster than with other more common types of dementia, such as Alzheimers disease. Other symptoms can include personality changes including anxiety and depression, lack of coordination, and visual disturbances. As the illness progresses, mental deterioration becomes pronounced and involuntary movements such as sudden jerky movements, blindness, weakness of extremities, and coma may occur. There is no treatment or cure.

Source: New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services