Froedtert Hospital has issued a warning to nearly 100 patients who underwent surgery this week that they may have been exposed to a rare, fatal brain disease spread by surgical instruments. It was discovered that another patient who had surgery this week may have Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, part of a family of prion diseases, which include mad cow and chronic wasting disease. It is thought that this disease may be transmitted by eating brain or nerve tissue from infected cows. Cruetzfeldt-Jakob has been known to survive on surgical instruments even after they have undergone ordinary sterilization procedures.
The hospital does not believe that if the patient is a carrier that it is likely to have spread to other patients, but felt it necessary to issue the warning. A state epidemiologist has stated: “This poses no risk to the public at large, and assuming the patient has CJD, which is not a given, the risk to the people on whom the instruments were used is very minimal.”
Unfortunately for those who received the warning, there is no quick fix or simple test to check to see if the disease has been spread. Symptoms of the disease might not appear for years or even decades and the only definitive test for the disease requires brain tissue samples. Hopefully, incidents such as this will lead to advances in sterilization techniques for surgical instruments.