For Immediate Release - September 05, 2013

Statement From Department of Public Health Regarding Potentially Contaminated Medical Equipment

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) today announced that five patients have been identified as low risk for exposure to Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) at Cape Cod Hospital as a result of surgical procedures performed with a potentially contaminated specialized instrument from Medtronic, Inc.

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.

DPH worked closely with New Hampshire officials and Medtronic, Inc to determine the extent of potential exposure in Massachusetts. The potential exposure is limited to five Cape Cod Hospital patients who received procedures between June and August using the same device that was used on the New Hampshire patient. The CJD risk to the Massachusetts patients is extremely low, as those patients underwent spinal surgery and not brain surgery. The five patients have been notified and counseled, and there is no risk to hospital staff or members of the public.

The use of medical devices is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) provide the guidelines for sterilization of medical equipment.

About Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)

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.

CJD cannot be transmitted through the air, sneezing, coughing, touching or most other forms of casual contact. Normal social contact with a CJD patient does not transmit CJD. Spouses and other household members of CJD patients have no higher risk of contracting CJD than the general population.

There are three types of CJD:

  • Sporadic: The disease appears even though the patient has no known risk factors for it. It is caused by the spontaneous transformation of normal proteins into abnormal prions. Sporadic CJD is the most common type of CJD and accounts for at least 85 percent of cases.
  • Hereditary: The patient has a family history of CJD and/or tests positive for a genetic mutation associated with CJD. About 5-15% percent of cases of CJD in the United States are hereditary.
  • Acquired: This type is transmitted when a patient has exposure to brain or nervous system tissue, usually through medical procedures. This is the rarest form of CJD. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization, the risk of contracting CJD from a surgical instrument is extremely low. There have been only 4 confirmed cases in the world and none of these cases occurred in the US.

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 Alzheimer’s 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.

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