Legal claims against doctors and hospitals can arise from misdiagnoses, wrong-site surgeries and fatal medical errors. Now, improperly sterilized equipment can be added to the list.

Some Connecticut residents know that Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a neurological disorder that can cause numerous complications that eventually lead to death. Although federal health officials believe the risks of transmitting CJD through contaminated surgical equipment are low, some cases of transmission through improperly sterilized equipment have occurred in recent years.

Seven high-profile incidents related to CJD exposure since 2001 have reportedly exposed more than 4,700 patients to the disease. The largest contamination incident happened at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian and involved 4,000 patients who were potentially exposed to contaminated equipment from April 2001 to April 2002. One patient who underwent surgery in April 2001 later died from CJD. In September 2013, five patients from Connecticut were reportedly exposed to equipment used on another patient who tested positive for CJD.

Most recently, 18 patients at the Forsyth Medical Center in North Carolina were potentially exposed to CJD from mid-January to early February.

In all seven incidents, patient exposures were due to hospital failures to use enhanced sterilization after using equipment on a patient with CJD. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the abnormal organisms that cause CJD cannot be destroyed by the standard sterilization used with surgical equipment. The World Health Organization recommends destroying surgical equipment that has been exposed to CJD.

Any Connecticut patient who has been exposed to poorly sterilized equipment due to a hospital’s carelessness should consider filing legal action. Doing so may compensate them for damages caused by the medical malpractice and lead to safer practices in the future.

Source: Winston-Salem Journal “Lawsuits common after discovery of brain disease mishap,” Richard Craver, Feb. 16, 2014