- An urgent investigation has been launched amid escalating
fears that variant CJD, the human form of mad cow disease, is spread by
the use of contaminated surgical instruments in tonsil operations.
- Surgeons at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington fear half
the UK's surgical instruments carry the bacteria, contributing to the rapid
spread of the disease.
- The Government has issued guidelines urging surgeons
to dispose of instruments to prevent what is feared to be a "potentially
- Urgent meetings with health experts are scheduled to
discuss other precautionary safeguards.
- A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "No CJD
sufferer has contracted the disease through surgery.
- "We are working on a precautionary basis accepting
that prions, which carry the disease, are very difficult to clean off instruments.
We are investigating the matter and have known about it since last April.
- "We have issued guidelines and are working out the
practicalities of introducing other safeguards."
- The spread of vCJD through surgical instruments was highlighted
by Professor John Collinge, of London's Imperial College of Medicine, at
a British Medical Association conference.
- He said contaminated surgical instruments are far more
resistant to cleaning and heat sterilisation. Because tonsils are believed
to be infected with vCJD before obvious symptoms appear, a surgeon can
carry out an operation on an apparently healthy person, contaminate the
instruments, then pass it on to the next patient.
- Professor Collinge told the conference: "Based on
10,000 people incubating the disease, which is a conservative estimate,
they calculated that half the tonsillectomy sets in the UK are contaminated.
This is potentially a serious problem.
- "It is a major problem to which the Department of
Health has given a lot of thought but not much action."
- Professor Peter Smith of the London School of Hygiene
and Tropical Medicine, said: "This is not something that can be ignored.
- "There is a theoretical risk that if an unknown
number of people are incubating vCJD, they may have operations and if the
infective agent survives decontamination it may be passed on."
- So far variant CJD is suspected of killing more than
80 people in the UK.
- © Associated Newspapers Ltd., 13 November 2000
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