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From: TSS (
Subject: In hospital scare, answers may be 10 years away ON CJD for 500+ exposed victims
Date: October 19, 2004 at 10:26 am PST

In hospital scare, answers may be 10 years away
story image 1
Emory University Hospital confirmed that one patient contracted the fatal Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. More than 500 patients are at-risk. --Lydia Feinstein/Photography Editor
By Chris Megerian
and Hilary Winn
Staff Writer
October 19, 2004

Hundreds of Emory University Hospital patients will have to wait as long as a decade to know whether they contracted Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal neurological disorder similar to mad cow disease.

Emory Healthcare Chief Quality Officer William Bornstein said the risks are too great to justify testing the more than 500 patients who may have been infected with CJD during surgeries last month.

The hospital recently confirmed that one patient definitely has the disease, which may have been transferred through instruments that were sterilized by normal hospital standards but not by enhanced standards that would ensure prevention of the spread of CJD.

The patient had a brain biopsy on Sept. 10.

CJD, which kills its victims within a year of the first emergence of symptoms, causes dementia, muscle spasms and the loss of motor skills.

Symptoms can take as long as a decade to surface.

The wife of one of the patients, who asked to remain anonymous, said she is devastated at the prospect of waiting to find out whether her husband will die as a result of the surgery.

“How do we know this isn’t something that is mutated and is going to strike earlier?” the woman asked.

She said her husband received surgery, almost two weeks after the original patient was tentatively diagnosed with CJD. But her husband was not notified of the risk prior to surgery, she said.

“I will never believe they had the patients’ interest at heart,” she said.

She said she may file a lawsuit but has not yet hired a lawyer.

Medical Director Robert Smith sent a letter on Oct. 8 to all patients possibly infected with CJD, confirming that they are at risk.

“Although we cannot guarantee your risk of an exposure is absolutely zero, it is immeasurably lower, for example, than other types of potential infections that sometimes occur in a hospital or other clinical surgical settings,” stated the letter, which was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The chances of actually contracting the neurological disease through surgical instruments are very low, hospital officials said. The only known occurrences of CJD being transmitted by them occurred in Europe before 1976, when hospitals adopted new sterilization procedures.

Concern about the CJD exposure began after the preliminary results of a patient’s brain biopsy, received Sept. 15, suggested the presence of CJD. The hospital had to wait several weeks for official results from the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center in Cleveland.

Ron Sauder, a spokesperson for the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, defended the hospital’s action.

“Emory has acted in a candid and forthright way,” Sauder said.

Both CJD and mad cow disease are caused by mutated proteins called prions in brain tissue, but CJD is not contracted through the consumption of contaminated meat. Rather, it is contracted when a protein in the brain spontaneously mutates, but the cause of the mutation is unknown.

The hospital is now sterilizing all neurosurgical equipment according to enhanced World Health Organization standards in order to prevent the spread of prions. Equipment for neurosurgery was first sterilized at the enhanced level on Sept. 15. All hospital equipment was sterilized again on Sept. 27.

The hospital is in contact with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in order to determine whether or not it is safe for the notified patients to donate blood and expects to receive notification within a few weeks.


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