Possible Exposure of Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease at Cape Cod Hospital

The exposure started with a patient in New Hampshire.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) announced this week that five patients have been identified as low risk for exposure to Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) at Cape Cod Hospital. This is a result of surgical procedures performed with a potentially contaminated specialized instrument. 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, who is now believed to have CJD. That resulted in the possible exposure of eight other neurosurgery patients in NH. Unfortunately, the only way to 100 percent diagnose CJD is post-mortem through autopsy, and that is currently under way at the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center.

The DPH said in a statement that the patient is believed to have sporadic CJD, meaning it happens spontaneously with no known cause. According to the DPH, sporadic CJD is not variant CJD, which is known as “mad cow disease,” and transmitted by eating contaminated beef.

The DPH says they are working closely with New Hampshire officials and Medtronic, Inc (the maker of the instrument) to determine the extent of the exposure in Massachusetts. So far, 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. According to the DPH, the CJD risk to the Massachusetts patients is extremely low, because patients underwent spinal surgery and not brain surgery.

According to the DPH:

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.

The DPH defines CJD as 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.