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18 possibly infected in N.C. hospital

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Eighteen patients at a North Carolina hospital may have been exposed to a rare neurological disease after surgical equipment was not properly sterilized, officials said.

Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem apologized for the exposure. President Jeff Lindsay said Monday that 18 patients may have been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. A neurosurgical procedure was done on Jan. 18 on a patient who was later confirmed to have the disease, a degenerative fatal brain disorder.

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The 18 patients were exposed to surgical equipment that had been cleaned, but not using the enhanced sterilization procedures used for Creutzfeldt-Jakob.

The patient was confirmed to have sporadic CJD, which has been associated with mad cow disease. There is no known cure for CJD. It could take years, if not decades, for other symptoms to show up.

‘‘We recognize that the risk to the patients is very small,’’ Lindsay said. ‘‘However, we take any potential exposure seriously.’’

Last fall, hospitals in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut said that 15 patients may have been exposed to the same disease after each facility had used equipment that had been used on a patient with the disorder. Enhanced sterilization was not used in those cases, either.

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