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More on infection-control protocols: enhanced sterilization

Let's continue with a theme we've been exploring regularly in recent posts: going to the hospital should not make people sicker, but often does.

As we noted earlier this week, sometimes this is due to hospital-acquired infections.

In this post, we will take note of a case of surgical errors that resulted in possible exposure to lethal brain disorders for 18 patients.

The neurosurgery that may have exposed the patients to the brain disorder was done at a hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. But the case has implications for the prevention of surgical errors in Albuquerque and across the country.

The brain disorder involved in the North Carolina case was Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). Though this disease is rare, it is inevitably fatal. It is characterized by dementia that escalates rapidly.

How were patients potentially exposed to the disease?

One patient was showing signs of the disorder. But before that diagnosis was confirmed, surgical instruments that were used to operate on that patient were also used on others - apparently without being properly sanitized.

Safety recommendations call for enhanced sterilization of instruments when CJD is involved. But enhanced sterilization was not done in this case.

Patient advocates contend that given the deadly consequences of CJD, hospitals need to be more aware of its potential spread.

In short, there are certain diseases where the prevention of infectious disease calls for going the proverbial extra mile.

Granted, the patients who may have been exposed have not yet manifested symptoms of CJD. But given the severity of the disease, the anxiety of possible exposure is a lot to live with.

Source: Modern Healthcare, "18 patients exposed to fatal brain disorder at N.C. hospital," Sabriya Rice, Feb. 11, 2014

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