Louisiana Man Exposed
To Mad Cow/CJD During
Surgery Sues Hospital
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 exposed.
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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