Hospital notifies surgical patients of possible exposure to fatal disease

Greenville Hospital System in South Carolina is notifying 11 surgical patients that they could have been exposed to a fatal brain disease through instruments that weren't sterilized according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations, the hospital confirmed Monday.

The CDC requires additional sterilization for instruments used on patients with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare brain illness similar to mad cow disease that usually results in death within the year of symptoms, Greenville News reported. Although "all instruments were sterilized according to rigorous U.S. protocols," according to the hospital, they didn't undergo the additional CDC-recommendations of sterilization; the hospital said it didn't discover the disease until after surgery.

The disease can have an incubation period of up to 50 years, and the only way to diagnose the condition is through a brain biopsy, Greenville News noted.

The hospital said there is little chance that the 11 patients contracted the disease. The CDC said no cases of transmission of the brain disease from surgical equipment have been reported since 1976, Reuters reported. And less than 1 percent of cases are acquired through medical procedures, according to the National Institutes of Health, Greenville News noted.

"We … value transparency and thus notified all patients who could be affected by this potential exposure," Thomas Diller, vice president of quality and patient safety of the Greenville Hospital System, said in the Reuters article.

Greenville Hospital System partnered with the CDC and the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center to investigate possible exposure to the 11 patients.

For more information:
- see Reuters article
- read the Greenville News article

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