29 Patients May Have Deadly
CJD From Contaminated Instruments

By Michael Holden
First Published 10-29-02

LONDON (Reuters) - Twenty-nine patients at a hospital in northern England may have been exposed to the deadly brain disease sporadic CJD after infected equipment was used during surgery, officials said Wednesday.
The patients at Middlesbrough General Hospital all underwent operations using instruments which had been used on a person who had a brain operation in July. The patient was diagnosed a month later with sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), an extremely rare but fatal brain-wasting condition.
A hospital spokeswoman said there was only a "very, very low" theoretical risk the patients had been exposed.
"We have been working closely with the CJD surveillance unit to look at any possible risk to these patients, though it must be stressed it is extremely low," a hospital statement said.
Only about one in a million people contract sporadic CJD. Unlike the variant CJD strain -- the human form of "mad cow disease" which scientists suspect is contacted by eating beef contaminated with BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) -- sporadic CJD occurs randomly, usually in older people, and has no known genetic or environmental cause.
British hospital guidelines specify that any equipment used in operations in any suspected CJD cases should be quarantined.
But the Middlesbrough Hospital said there had been no reason to suspect the original patient had CJD, and so there was no cause not to use the equipment, which was withdrawn after the discovery was made.
"It was due to the diligence of one of our pathologists that a sample of tissue was sent to the CJD surveillance unit -- to rule CJD out rather than confirm it," medical director Paul Lawler said.
"Once sporadic CJD was diagnosed we followed the procedure set down by the CJD incidents panel."
The hospital said it had delayed contacting the patients until Tuesday because it had been waiting for further guidance, in accordance with National Health Service practice.
"We appreciate the distress and concern this news may cause to these patients, their families and the public at large," the hospital statement said.
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