An autopsy has confirmed that a New Hampshire patient died from a rare, fatal brain disease and may have exposed 15 other people in three states through tainted surgical equipment.
Doctors suspected that the patient suffered from Creutzfeldt-Jakob, a fatal brain disease characterized by rapidly progressive dementia, but it can only be confirmed through a brain biopsy or autopsy.
"Though we are not surprised by the test results, we are saddened by the toll this disease takes on families and our sympathies go out to all those affected," said Dr. Jose Montero, New Hampshire's director of public health, in a statement.
The patient had brain surgery in May at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester where eight other patients may have been exposed to the disease through shared surgical equipment.
The proteins that cause the disease can survive the standard techniques used to sterilize surgical equipment.
In early September, New Hampshire officials notified the eight patients that they may have been exposed to the disease.
Officials also warned five others in Massachusetts and two in Connecticut who also came into contact with the disease because the surgical equipment used was rented out to several hospitals.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, known as CJD, affects about 200 people in the US each year and one in a million people worldwide, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Symptoms are similar to other dementia disorders including Alzheimer's but usually progresses more rapidly.
Signs of CJD include cognitive problems, failing memory, personality changes and vision and coordination problems.
The disease is always fatal and there is no treatment.
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