As many as 13 brain surgery patients are being monitored for symptoms of a "rapidly progressive and always fatal" brain disease they may have gotten while under the knife. Instruments contaminated with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare, incurable disorder similar to mad cow disease, were used on eight patients at Catholic Medical Center in Concord, NH, after an operation on a patient now believed to have the disorder, CNN reports. Five patients in other states are also in danger, though officials say the risk of infection is "extremely low," USA Today reports. More troubling: the tools were on loan.
The initial contamination happened in May, but the now-dead patient's symptoms were only recognized last month; An autopsy is under way to confirm doctors' suspicions but the CMC's chief exec says there's not much that could have been done. Normal sanitation doesn't kill the tiny proteins that cause CJD and complete sanitation would mean destroying the equipment in the process. "It's such a rarity, it's just not practical," he tells the Boston Globe. "No hospital throws out their instruments after each and every surgery." The equipment has now been quarantined. (Read more Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease stories.)