Some 18 neurosurgical patients in North Carolina have been given the terrifying news that they may have been exposed to a rare and fatal brain disease because of a surgical mix-up. A patient with suspected Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease —a condition similar to "mad cow" disease—was operated on at the Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem last month and the tools were not sufficiently sanitized before they were used on the other 18 patients, reports Reuters.
Tools used on CJD patients are supposed to either go through enhanced sterilization procedures or be destroyed, but the hospital only used a standard sterilization process. The disease's incubation period can last years, but most patients die within a few months of showing symptoms. Only around 300 cases occur in the US every year. The hospital has apologized for the "devastating news" the patients have received but it stresses that the chance of infection is very low, with only four confirmed cases of CJD transmission through surgical instruments on record and none since 1976, the Winston-Salem Journal reports.