CONCORD, N.H. — Public health officials believe one person in New Hampshire has died of a rare, degenerative brain disease, and say there's a remote chance up to 13 others in multiple states were exposed to the fatal illness through surgical equipment.
Dr. Joseph Pepe, president of Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, said officials are 95 percent certain that a patient who had brain surgery in May and died in August had sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
The disease progresses rapidly once symptoms appear and is always fatal, usually within a few months. But the symptoms can take decades to show up. They include behavior changes, memory loss, impaired coordination and other neurological problems.
In fewer than 1 percent of the cases, the disease is transmitted by exposure to brain or nervous system tissue, state public health director Dr. Jose Montero said. Only four cases of transmission via surgical instruments have been recorded, none in the United States, he said. Another 10 to 15 percent of the cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob involve a genetic mutation that is passed down among families.
The hospital has notified eight of its patients who may have been exposed, and hospitals in other states are working to do the same because some of the surgical equipment was rented and used elsewhere after being used in Manchester, Montero said. He would not identify the other states but said no more than five additional patients were potentially exposed.