Surgical Instruments Spread CJD
By Danielle Gusmaroli
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 serious problem".
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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