Prion Contagion Unstoppable

Evidence continues to mount showing that many American hospitals are brimming with disease following a recent announcement by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH). At least five patients who recently underwent spinal surgery at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis may have been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), a brain infection similar to mad cow disease, according to the announcement, while eight others in New Hampshire and at least two others in another unidentified state may also have been exposed recently. In the big picture, most have been exposed and don’t know it. The same goes for millions of people.

Surgical instruments shipped down from a hospital in New Hampshire were found to potentially be contaminated with prions, which are misfolded proteins that cause CJD and are not completely eliminated by standard sterilization protocols. The instruments had originally been used on a now-deceased patient at the Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, who has since been identified as having potentially been infected with prion disease (CJD), which can cause memory loss, cognitive disorders, behavioral changes and eventually dementia and death.

“Our concern is with the health and well-being of the eight patients who may have been exposed to CJD,” said Dr. Joseph Pepe, CEO of Catholic Medical Center.

“We will work closely with these families to help them in any way possible, even though the risk of infection is extremely low.”

Prions are not completely eradicated by hospital sterilization procedures. As a result, the disease can spread indiscriminately and without warning from tool to tool, and from patient to patient.

CJD is said to affect less than 400 people annually in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the disease has no known cure, and is “rapidly progressive and always fatal,” according to health experts.

“The instruments included a metal reference frame and brace used in surgical navigation during the procedure,” stated Anne Roach, a spokeswoman for MDPH, about the potentially affected instruments, which were later used to conduct spinal surgeries on patients at other hospitals.

CJD and Alzheimer's disease transmissible

The Boston Globe reports that the potentially tainted equipment was borrowed by Cape Cod Hospital from Minneapolis-based manufacturer Medtronic, which also reportedly lent the equipment to another unidentified hospital previously. For nearly three months, the instruments were used to conduct special surgeries at Cape Cod Hospital, that is until Medtronic finally became aware of the CJD issue and notified the Hyannis-based hospital to stop using the equipment on August 28.

“[It] supposedly adheres well to many surfaces and is very difficult to remove,” Gail Horvath, an operating room nurse and patient safety analyst at the ECRI Institute, is quoted as saying to The Boston Globe about the threat of CJD at hospitals. “Bleaching for long periods of time can work, but that can damage sensitive instruments, and other effective chemicals can leave dangerous residue or otherwise harm the tools.”

Of particular concern is the fact that the implicated equipment had already went through a four-stage sanitation and sterilization process at Cape Cod Hospital prior to being used there, according to Dr. Donald Guadagnoli, the hospital’s chief medical officer. This process was meant to reduce CJD risk to the lowest possible level, and yet even this may not have been enough to render the equipment clean and safe.

“The reality is there are a lot of risks to undergoing surgery and most are substantially more significant than this,” says Dr. Guadagnoli. “The company and hospitals did everything they were supposed to do.”

Alzheimer's disease and contagion

Prions are associated with an entire family of neurological disorders that are killing people, wildlife and livestock around the world. These deadly diseases are known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE). The operative word is “transmissible.” TSEs include Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, scrapie, chronic wasting disease and mad cow disease. The disease has killed many species of mammals including dolphins. Victims permanently contaminate the world around them with their bodily fluids. Once contaminated with prions, items cannot be sterilized.

Learn more about prion disease transmission:

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Gary Chandler is the CEO of Crossbow Communications. He also is the founder of Sacred Seedlings. Chandler also is the author of the Language and Travel Guide To Indonesia. Chandler founded Earth News and is the author of eight books about environmental success stories from around the world. Chandler also is connecting the dots to the global surge in neurological disorders.