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Five Massachusetts patients may have been exposed to brain disease

Sept. 6, 2013 at 8:30 AM   |   Comments

CAPE COD, Mass., Sept. 6 (UPI) -- Five patients at a Massachusetts hospital may have been exposed to a fatal brain disease via surgical tools previously used on a person who died, doctors said.

A statement from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Thursday said doctors at Cape Cod Hospital used the same neurosurgical equipment this summer that was used at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, N.H., on a woman who developed symptoms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and died last month.

An autopsy, the only way Creutzfeldt-Jakob can be diagnosed, was scheduled to determine whether she had the disease, CNN said.

Officials at the New Hampshire hospital said up to eight patients at their facility were exposed to the disease after the same equipment was used on them. The five Massachusetts patients, who had spinal surgery, bring the total number of patients who may have been exposed to 13, CNN reported.

The Boston Globe reported Cape Cod Hospital spokeswoman Robin Lord said the Hyannis hospital borrowed the equipment, manufactured by Medtronic Inc., on June 7 and discontinued its use after the company notified it of the contamination issue Aug. 28.

The newspaper said Massachusetts public health officials said a hospital in another state also borrowed the instruments before Cape Cod Hospital received them, but they would not identify it.

Officials in New Hampshire said chances were very low the patients had been exposed to the disease.

The surgical procedures in New Hampshire took place between May and August, those in Massachusetts between July and August.

A person may not display any symptoms up to several decades after exposure to the disease, officials said. The National Institutes of Health say it cannot be transmitted to other people through the air or human contact.

The usual method of sterilizing surgical equipment -- with heat -- does not kill the proteins that cause the disease. The World Health Organization recommends the use of caustic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide to sterilize surgical equipment that may have come in contact with the disease.

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