MN Tie to Patients Possibly Exposed to Brain Disease in NH

Updated: 09/05/2013 8:24 PM By: Cassie Hart

Doctors fear more than a dozen patients in New England may have contracted a rare deadly brain disease after undergoing surgery.  It’s so rare that it impacts just one in a million people.

Now, there's a Minnesota tie with the health scare. The surgery equipment came from Fridely-based Medtronic.

The potential problems began at a hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire back in May. Doctors say they did brain surgery on a man they didn't know had Sporadic Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, known as CJD.

Dr. Jose Montero said, "There was no diagnosis at the time the equipment was used."

The equipment used was sterilized, but standard sterilization doesn't kill the disease, according to doctors. So, when the surgical instruments were reused on other patients they could have been exposed.

Dr. Joseph Pepe said, "The risk is close to zero, but it's not zero."

This type of transmission is incredibly rare, as is the disease. It impacts just one in a million people worldwide, much like mad cow disease.

CJD impacts the nervous system and causes rapid brain deterioration, but has no known cause.

Robert Blodgett knows firsthand, after his sister Shirley contracted it 14 years ago. He was told there is no treatment or cure, it usually kills within months.

Now, the eight New Hampshire patients and five others who could have been exposed when that same equipment was reused in other hospitals - just wait.

At this stage, since none have shown symptoms, there is no way to test them for the deadly disease.

Medtronic released the following statement:

"Medtronic was recently notified by Catholic Medical Center in New Hampshire that our surgical instruments had been used on a patient who may have had sporadic CJD at the time of surgery.  Upon notification that our instruments had been used in this case, we followed procedures to quickly track that specific set of instruments and have confirmed they were used in seven additional cases.  We are assisting the hospitals and the appropriate state health authorities as they manage this situation.   We have also notified the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The hospitals are coordinating all communications with patients potentially involved in this situation.

Hospitals are able to access a range medical device innovations and surgical instruments from Medtronic, such as image-guided technologies used in image-guided surgeries. Some hospitals purchase these instruments as capital equipment that then is owned by the hospital.  Others can access the instruments and image-guidance technology through a pay-per-use program.  Regardless of whether or not the hospital owns the instruments, the hospital still follows its required procedures and protocols for use, including sterilization of the instruments between surgeries.  Pay-per-use agreements are very commonly used by hospitals and medical device manufacturers.