According to a recent article from CBC News, two patients treated for cataracts at Moncton Hospital in New Brunswick this winter were later diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The prion disease is very rare and very fatal, and when handled improperly, transmissible.
Provincial health officials alerted some 700 individuals that they might have been exposed to medical instruments used in the treatment of these two patients. Though Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is transmissible through contact to brain or nervous tissue, officials said there was no need to worry about contracting the disease from medical instruments.
About Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a human prion disease. A “prion” is a misfolded protein that can spontaneously develop. These prions act as pathogens, causing other, healthy, structural proteins in the brain to misfold in turn. The cascading chain reaction of misfolding proteins typically progresses quickly, and is always fatal.
“Mad cow” disease was a prion disease affecting Europe’s bovine population – fears that the fatal disease would spread to humans led to drastic changes in the beef supply. Despite much of the hysteria over acquired prion diseases, most cases are sporadic. Nearly 85% of all cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease occur in individuals with no family history and without contact with an infected individual.
In fact, since it was first described nearly 100 years ago, fewer than 1% of recorded cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease have been acquired.
No Cause for Alarm
For the 700 individuals New Brunswick officials contacted, the serious scare they received in the mail is likely the worst that will come of the situation. Modern sterilization practices common in all hospitals around the world have made the transmission of something like CJD through instrument contamination “nearly impossible,” according to Moncton Hospital’s managing Horizon Health Network.
The two cases, despite their similarities (both patients underwent procedures to remove cataracts), were seemingly unrelated. New Brunswick’s deputy chief medical officer Dr. Cristin Muecke noted that Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has a long incubation period, sometimes several decades long. That in particular makes him skeptical that either case could possibly be related to the other.
Though statistically improbable, the “outbreak” of CJD is just one of those freak occurrences that sometimes happen.
As the human population grows exponentially, do you think proportionality will make “outbreaks” of incredibly rare conditions like CJD more common? How should we respond to this as a public? Patient Worthy wants to hear from you!