Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center has announced today that 18 of their patients have been exposed to a deadly brain disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). The exposure occurred on January 18 of this year. Surgeons at the hospital performed an operation on a patient that suffered from CJD, a rare but very deadly brain affliction. Due to the volatile nature of the disease, instruments used on a patient who has CJD must go through a special decontamination process, in addition to standard hospital procedures. The instruments used on the patient went through the standard process; however, surgeons failed to put them through the additional decontamination procedures. Over the course of the day, the same instruments were used on 18 other patients. These patients have been directly exposed to CJD and are now being closely monitored for signs of the disease.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a degenerative brain disorder. Though it is rare, 1 out of a million people get it each year, and it is incredibly lethal. The disease is a late bloomer, and does not usually begin to manifest symptoms until after a patient reaches 60 years old. Out of those that are infected, 90 percent die within the first year.
There most common of the four variations of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is Sporadic CJD, which is also known as sCJD, occurs within a patient who has no apparent risk factors related to the disease. The majority of the cases, somewhere around 85 percent, are forms of sCJD. Hereditary CJD accounts for about ten percent of all cases. It is a result of a patient whose family has a history of the disease. The patient will also test positive for a genetic mutation related to CJD. The third and familiar form called Variant CJD is related to Bovine Spongiform Encephalothopy, more commonly known as Mad Cow; a patient who eats tainted beef is at risk to this form.
Acquired CJD is responsible for one percent of all known cases. The hospital patients who were exposed to the deadly disease in North Carolina are at risk to be inflicted with this type of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. When CJD is acquired, it is due to direct exposure with tissues from the infected body. In most cases, this exposure comes as a result of tainted medical instruments. CJD cannot be acquired through casual contact of an infected person.
Patients who suffer from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease experience several crippling symptoms. Dementia, impaired memory, personality changes, and a loss of motor skills are a few of the more severe ones. Many people with the disease will experience depression and insomnia as well. The later stages of the illness are far worse. Patients lose almost all of their mental capacity as well as muscle movement. Their bodies will begin to jerk involuntarily, and eventually they may go blind. In the final stages, patients will lose their power of speech and slowly slip into a coma. Once infections completely take over the body, the patient dies.
Unfortunately at this time, there are no tests available to detect Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The disease shares too many symptoms for other common ailments to be able to isolate it. There are two ways CJD can be identified, but they are not helpful in diagnosing it. The first is a biopsy of the brain. This procedure is risky and often discouraged because there is no guarantee that the part of the brain that is biopsied will be infected. Also, even if the infection is found, there is no viable treatment. The risk for the procedure is too high when it does not help the patient in any way. A full autopsy can also be given to the brain which will identify the disease, but can only occur after the patient has passed away. It is impossible to detect the disease in its early stages because the incubation period can be as long as 50 years, and the symptoms do not manifest until it has already taken hold.
Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center has come out with a public apology to the possibly infected patients, as well as to their families. They feel at this time that the chance any of them will actually acquire the disease is very low. However, the risk is so high that even the surgeons who operated on the infected brain could be exposed. For now, the hospital patients who were exposed to the deadly Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease will be under close watch. Unfortunately for them, no amount of watching will save them if they have acquired CJD. This lethal error on the part of Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center may cost these exposed patients their lives.
By Chris Chisam
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke