Prion disease scare postpones surgeries at Maine Medical Center

Maine Medical Center in Portland postponed elective surgical procedures scheduled for Nov. 9 and 10 after discovering a patient potentially has Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease or another prion disease.

On Nov. 11, the hospital announced lab results, performed at the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western University in Cleveland, confirmed the patient has CJD.

Prion diseases, or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, like CJD are rare neurodegenerative disorders that can affect humans and animals. They are always fatal.

Prion diseases like CJD are not contagious but can be spread to other humans via contaminated neurosurgical equipment. The CDC reports there have been six cases linked to the use of contaminated equipment in the U.S. All of the equipment-related cases occurred before the routine implementation of sterilization procedures that are now used in healthcare settings, according to the CDC.

The hospital consulted with the CDC and postponed elective surgeries as all equipment and surgical processing areas were sterilized — not just the equipment used to treat this particular patient. "We thought it important to go above and beyond to assure the safety of our patients," said Joel Botler, MD, CMO of MMC. "Now that we know this case is confirmed, we can see that our response was 100 percent appropriate and that patients should feel confident in the safety of their care at Maine Medical Center."

Maine Medical Center is notifying a "small number of patients who we think should be nofitied based on details of their specific case," Dr. Botler said. "Let me be clear, only a small number of patients who have had surgery at MMC have been exposed to any degree of risk, and that risk is exceedingly low, approaching zero."

Note: This story was updated Nov. 14 to include the confirmed test results.

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