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Infectious Brain Disease Confirmed in Patient Treated at Maine Med

A patient treated recently at Maine Medical Center in Portland has Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal degenerative brain disorder caused by an infectious type of protein, the hospital said Friday.

Maine Med announced Wednesday that it had postponed elective surgeries at its Portland campus after it suspected a patient had a rare, pathogen-based type of prion disease, in the same family as “mad cow disease.” It continued to suspend elective surgeries Thursday while hospital staff performed specialized sterilization of equipment and surgical processing areas. Surgeries resumed Friday.

Hospital officials said they learned this week that a patient appeared to have the rare condition based on an initial biopsy result. The National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western University in Cleveland tested the biopsy sample and confirmed the diagnosis Friday, according to a Maine Med news release.

The hospital said it is now looking at the procedures it performed and the instruments that were used prior to the initial biopsy to determine which patients should be contacted because they might be at risk.

“We are in the process of reaching out to the small number of patients who we think should be notified based on the details of their specific case,” Dr. Joel Botler, chief medical officer at Maine Med, said in the release. “Our staff members have been fielding calls from patients who have legitimate concerns and questions about their care.

“Let me be clear, only a small number of patients who have had surgery at MMC have been exposed to any degree of risk, and that risk is exceedingly low, approaching zero.”

Also known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, prion diseases include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in cattle; Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans; scrapie in sheep; and chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, according to the National Institutes of Health.

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