Patients still contacting helpline over CJD scare

Beaumont Hospital ‘won’t confirm or deny’ it met with patients and family members today

Minister for Health Dr James Reilly said he would be seeking reassurances from the HSE and Beaumont Hospital that the protocols in place were sufficient. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Minister for Health Dr James Reilly said he would be seeking reassurances from the HSE and Beaumont Hospital that the protocols in place were sufficient. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

 

Up to 50 patients and families affected by the CJD scare at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin made contact with the hospital’s helpline today.

A hospital spokesman would not commment on reports that patients and their loved ones affected by the scare met with the hospital’s chief executive this morning.

“We will not be confirming or denying a meeting. Any matter related to patients is confidential. This is very sensitive, very upsetting and distressing and we will not comment in any way on private patient matters.”

A review has identified up to 20 patients who are at risk as a result of being operated on with the same instruments that were used on the patient later diagnosed with CJD. The HSE defended the hospital’s handling of the situation by pointing out that the instruments were withdrawn once CJD was suspected and before a full diagnosis was made.

At least 1,300 people contacted a helpline set up yesterday to provide information to patients concerned about the issue. The HSE said last night it had contacted “virtually all” patients, or their family members, who were operated on using the instruments.

The patients have been told they have a “slightly higher risk” of getting CJD and will need to take precautions to prevent any further transmission of the disease “in the unlikely event they have been infected”.

Having previously estimated the risk of the other patients getting the disease as slightly above one in a million, officials last night revised their estimate down to one in 400,000. Dr Kevin Kelleher, head of health protection at the HSE, admitted it was impossible to know the exact risk faced by up to 20 affected patients.

One US expert described the risk of transmission as “pretty high”. Michael Payne, research operations manager at the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Centre in Cleveland, Ohio, pointed out that the prion proteins which cause the disease survive normal sterilisation processes and pose a risk to both patients and staff exposed to them.

However, CJD is not contagious and prions must come into contact with an open wound for the disease to be transmitted.

The period under review is between June 1st last and mid-July, and follows the diagnosis late last week of CJD in a patient who had undergone surgery in Beaumont.

The HSE says the diagnosis was discovered later during a “routine” examination of tissue in the laboratory. The disease was spotted through a microscopic examination of “suspicious” tissue by pathologists.

As soon as the diagnosis was made, the patient was quarantined and international experts consulted.

Mr Payne said the only way to decontaminate equipment exposed to CJD was to use powerful solutions of bleach or sodium hydroxide and then to sterilise it at high temperatures for over four hours. Beaumont says it has traced all of the surgical instruments involved in the current case.

Minister for Health James Reilly said he would be seeking reassurances from the HSE and the hospital that the protocols in place to prevent a recurrence were sufficient. He said there was no “clinical suspicion” to suggest a case of CJD was involved at the time the patient was operated on.

l The helpline will be open tomorrow, Sunday 21st July 2013, from 8.30 am until 11 am . The number is 1800 302 602.

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