A national laboratory in Chantilly, Va., has confirmed a preliminary diagnosis of an extremely rare condition known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) following a Feb. 15, 2016, diagnostic lumbar puncture of a patient at Washington Regional Medical Center. The preliminary lab results were received by WRMC the afternoon of March 15, 2016.

Arkansas map/ National Atlas of the United States
Arkansas map/ National Atlas of the United States

WRMC infectious disease specialist James Newton, M.D., emphasized the extreme unlikelihood of any other patients being affected by this rare condition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (CDC) advises that there has not been a single reported case of CJD transmitted by surgical instruments in the four decades since 1976 and the widespread adoption of modern surgical sterilization techniques by the nation’s hospitals. Those sterilization techniques have been standard procedure at WRMC for all operations for 40 years.

Out of an abundance of caution and a desire to ensure the safety of patients and staff, upon receiving the lab results WRMC immediately shut all operating rooms. WRMC conducted a thorough sterilization and replaced certain surgical instruments, in adherence with recommendations of the World Health Organization.

CJD, a degenerative brain disease, occurs in the population worldwide at the rate of about one person per million per year for reasons that are usually unknown. The illness is not the variant condition known popularly as “mad cow disease.”

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WRMC will resume surgical cases later today. Dr. Newton stressed that there is no risk to patients currently at WRMC, medical center staff or the general public.

Despite the possibility being remote that any other patients of WRMC have been exposed to the protein that causes CJD, WRMC is collaborating with the CDC and Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) to identify and advise those patients who received care at WRMC during the relevant period whether they may be at risk. While medical literature states that the chance that any other patient has been exposed to the CJD protein through surgical instrumentation is extremely small, WRMC believes it important to ensure that patients are appropriately advised as it cannot guarantee that there is absolutely no risk.

“We continue to seek the best available guidance and information from the CDC, the Arkansas Department of Health and the medical literature,” said Dr. Newton. “The extreme rarity of this disease and the nature of the potential exposure, which is so small it cannot be quantified, make it a challenge to find published guidelines that are applicable to our situation. Nevertheless, we are committed to finding and sharing with our patients the best available advice.”