Thirteen New England patients possibly exposed to fatal brain disease

BOSTON, Sept 5 Fri Sep 6, 2013 4:33am IST

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BOSTON, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Thirteen people who recently underwent neurosurgery in Massachusetts and New Hampshire may have been exposed to a rare and fatal brain condition similar to "mad cow" disease in cattle because of a medical device used in both states, state officials said.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said on Thursday that five patients treated at Cape Cod Hospital between June and August are at low risk of infection for the disease, called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). On Wednesday, New Hampshire announced eight patients may have been exposed.

The New Hampshire patients were treated at a hospital in Manchester, state officials said.

"The risk of CJD exposure from the instrument was first identified by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services after the device was used on a patient in New Hampshire, who was subsequently suspected to have CJD," the Massachusetts health body said in a press release.

"The CJD risk to the Massachusetts patients is extremely low, as those patients underwent spinal surgery and not brain surgery," it said.

A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts health body, Anne Roach, said the device was from Medtronic Inc, but she could not immediately identify it or explain how it could have remained infected over the course of months. Medtronic had not responded to Reuters in time for this story.

New Hampshire had warned on Wednesday that eight patients who recently underwent neurosurgery at a hospital in Manchester may have been exposed to the rare and fatal brain condition as a result of a surgery on a ninth patient, believed to have had a sporadic form of CJD.

Officials in both states said there is no risk to the general public and that all the patients have been notified.

CJD is similar to "mad cow" disease but not linked to beef consumption. In the sporadic form, it crops up spontaneously without a known cause. There is no known treatment or cure for the condition, which has symptoms including failing memory, personality changes, blindness and sudden jerky movements, the health department said.

"After extensive expert discussion, we could not conclude that there was no risk, so we are taking the step of notifying the patients," Dr. Jose Montero, New Hampshire's director of public health, said on Wednesday.

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