Fifteen people in three states have now been warned that they may have been exposed to a rare and fatal brain disease through potentially contaminated surgical equipment, according to health officials on Friday.
Eight patients in New Hampshire, five in Massachusetts and two in Connecticut have been confirmed to have received notice that they may have been exposed to contaminated equipment by a patient suspected to have died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), which is an invariably fatal brain disorder.
Authorities are waiting for autopsy results from the patient who is believed to have suffered from sporadic (or spontaneous) CJD, which is different from the variant form that causes “mad cow disease” in humans and is linked to eating beef contaminated with the cattle version.
In a statement released by Health and Human Services, officials report that five of the patients in Massachusetts had surgery at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, whereas the two Connecticut patients were treated at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in West Haven.
The contaminated equipment they all shared became a problem because standard hospital sterilization techniques cannot eradicate the prion (a protein) that causes s CJD.
Although the risk of infection is very low, symptoms can take many years to develop in those who were exposed.
Approximately 200 cases of CJD are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Some of the initial symptoms can include a rapidly failing memory, personality changes, depression, anxiety, lack of coordination, visual disturbances and other cognitive problems.
Symptoms that occur later include jerky movements, blindness, weak limbs and coma. As of now, no treatment or cure exists.