- BATON ROUGE, Louisiana
(Reuters) -- A Louisiana man who may have been exposed to a rare, fatal
brain-wasting disease during surgery is suing the university hospital where
his operation was performed, his attorney said on Wednesday.
- Michael Rebert, 28, of New Iberia, Louisiana, was told
by his neurosurgeon at Tulane University Medical Center in New Orleans
last month that he might have been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
(CJD) during an operation in April due to contaminated surgical instruments,
said lawyer Alicia Hoover of Baton Rouge.
- The disease, the human variant of "mad cow disease,"
causes rapid deterioration of the brain, with progressive dementia and
loss of physical functions, medical authorities said. Death usually occurs
within a year after the onset of symptoms.
- The suit, filed in state civil district court in New
Orleans this week, seeks unspecified financial damages.
- Hoover said Rebert underwent surgery in April to remove
a small portion of his brain that caused him to have multiple and increasingly
severe seizures in a form of epilepsy.
- "The irony was that there was a big family debate
over whether to have the surgery," she said. "His father, who
died just three weeks before the operation, had made him promise to take
care of his mother and a younger sister who has cerebral palsy."
- Hoover added, "That's why he had the surgery, to
be able to hold down a job and care for them," Hoover said.
- Although CJD can take years to develop, she said, "More
than 50 percent of those exposed to the disease through contamination from
infected brain tissue show symptoms of the disease within 0.6 to 2.2 years."
- Last month, Tulane confirmed that eight neurosurgery
patients may have been exposed to CJD through surgical instruments that
may have been contaminated by use on an earlier brain-surgery patient who
had the disease.
- The hospital said the instruments received routine washing
and sterilization after being used on the earlier patient, but admitted
that the risk of spreading the disease may not have been eliminated.
- CJD was confirmed during an autopsy of the earlier patient,
according to a written statement issued last month by Dr. Alan Miller,
vice president for clinical affairs at the hospital. The disease can only
be determined after an autopsy, he said.
- The university on Wednesday refused to release any information
not contained in the October statement, which said counseling and follow-up
medical care was being offered to the eight patients who may have been
- CJD is believed to be caused by a prion, an unconventional
pathogen thought to transform normal protein molecules into deadly ones
by altering their shape, authorities said.
- Prions are resistant to normal sterilization procedures,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman Tom Skinner said.
Instruments must be treated for an hour in an autoclave, a device used
for sterilization employing superheated steam under pressure, at 270 degrees
Fahrenheit (132 degrees Celsius) followed by submersion in sodium hydroxide
for successful decontamination, Skinner said.
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is related to bovine spongiform
encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease, which is thought to be
transmitted to humans through the eating of infected beef. At least 70
people in Great Britain have died from the bovine-related illness.
- Skinner said the disease is so rare in the United States
that it is found in only one in a million people.
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