Improper equipment sterilization exposes patients to rare disease

Every time a patient undergoes surgery, there is a risk for infection. While the risk is typically low, ranging anywhere from a one to three percent chance according to some reports—the risk is still there. The best way to prevent infection from surgical procedures in Pennsylvania is for medical professionals to properly clean and sterilize surgical equipment after each use; they could be subject to a medical malpractice suit if they fail to do so.

Most medical equipment can be sterilized using heat, but heat alone will not kill the proteins that cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal brain disease. Instead, a chemical such as sodium hydroxide must be used to disinfect any surgical equipment that comes in contact with infected tissues. Five patients who underwent spinal cord surgery at a Massachusetts hospital were recently exposed to this fatal brain disease. The patients are being monitored for symptoms of the disease but there is no way to definitively diagnose if they have the disease while alive; it can only be confirmed by an autopsy. Specialized medical equipment that was not sterilized properly was used on all five patients. The same equipment was used during an operation on a patient in New Hampshire who since died and is believed to have had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Autopsy results on that patient are not yet available.

Most infections from surgery are minor infections that only affect the skin around the incision, but fatal diseases are still possible. If you have suffered from an infection or a worsened condition because of negligent operating room staff or a careless surgeon who operated using medical equipment that was not sterilized properly, you may be entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering. You may want to speak with a personal injury lawyer regarding your legal rights.

Source:, “Fatal brain disease potentially affects five people in Massachusetts,” Julia Lull, Sep. 6, 2013.