Elective surgeries have been postponed at Maine’s largest hospital this week because a patient was reported to have a suspected prion disease.


The Maine Medical Center (MMC) says a patient at recently underwent a biopsy procedure and the specimen was reported by pathology as being suspicious for prion disease. Details of the case are not being shared due to privacy concerns and confirmation testing is ongoing.

Hospital officials say employees and patients at MMC are not at risk of contracting the lethal disease, it does not spread by skin contact or airborne transmission and potentially contaminated surgical instruments have been taken out of circulation and are getting enhanced sterilization per recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

LISTEN: Prion diseases and the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation

Prion diseases are a group of conditions affecting the brain that lead to progressive confusion, memory loss and difficulty walking, among other symptoms. These conditions are extremely rare affecting less than one in a million people each year (about 250 cases in the U.S. annually), and most cases do not have a known cause.

Three years ago, a New Hampshire hospital experienced a similar situation when a surgery patient died of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease.

MMC officials say they are  taking all steps necessary to protect our patients, their families and the community. Leaders and team members are working around the clock to clean any surface or instrument that may possibly have come in contact with surgical instruments used in the biopsy procedure on the patient with suspected prion disease. This is being done with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and in accordance with published evidence in the medical literature, using a high-strength cleaning solution and extreme high temperatures to ensure adequate sterilization.