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Two Conn. patients at risk for rare brain disease

Connecticut health officials said Friday that two patients treated at a VA hospital in West Haven may have been exposed to a rare, deadly brain disease from potentially contaminated surgical equipment that was also used in New Hampshire and in Massachusetts.

The two are in addition to 13 patients in the other states already reported at risk of developing Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, an incurable illness marked by rapid mental deterioration that resembles dementia.

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Connecticut’s Department of Public Health said in a statement that New Hampshire health officials notified the agency on Aug. 29 about the potential patient exposure.

“The risk of transmission of [Creutzfeldt-Jakob] to the two patients at the VA is considered very low. The general public and any other patients at the VA Hospital and their employees are not at any risk,” it said. “No other Connecticut hospitals are known to have received the potentially contaminated equipment.”

On Wednesday, Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, NH reported that eight of its patients may have been exposed to the disease during brain surgery from equipment used in May on another patient who didn’t show symptoms of the illness until August.

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Standard methods for sterilizing surgical equipment before every operation do not completely protect against the rare disease, specialists said.

The device used in the May operation was rented from Minneapolis-based Medtronic, and then were sent to the Connecticut VA hospital and to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis.

The Medtronic device, a metal frame and brace used to pinpoint an area for surgery with as little disruption as possible to the surrounding tissue, was used on five Cape Cod Hospital spine-surgery patients in addition to the two in Connecticut.

The other eight Catholic Medical Center patients were potentially exposed to the disease by other instruments that had also been used in the original May surgery, hospital officials said.

Tests are being conducted on tissue samples taken after the May patient died last month. Those tests are not due back for about a month. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease can be definitively diagnosed only after death.

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.
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