13 spinal surgery patients in the Northeast may have been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, after being operated on with equipment that was used previously on a patient that showed symptoms of the disease before her death.CJD is a rapidly progressing neurodegenerative disease that typically affects 200 Americans every year. It affects the victim’s memory, coordination, and vision, and is often fatal within the first year of the onset of its symptoms. CJD presently has no known cause or cure, and can only be diagnosed by autopsy.According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and officials at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, NH, 5 hospital patients in Massachusetts and up to 8 patients in New Hampshire came into contact with the surgical equipment in question this summer. An autopsy of the unnamed woman believed to have been infected with CJD is underway to determine if she did in fact have the disease.In the event that the woman tests positive for CJD, Catholic Medical Center CEO Dr. Joseph Pepe claims that the risk of the disease spreading through the equipment is still very low. While the standard practice of using heat to sterilize surgical equipment is effective against most diseases, it does not eliminate the proteins that cause CJD.Our thoughts are with the 13 exposed patients and their families. Hopefully, even if the unnamed woman does not test positive for CJD, this event will urge hospitals to be more thorough in their decontamination of surgical equipment.Sources: Boston Business Journal, “Exposure to fatal brain disease rises to 13 patients, five in Massachusetts,” September 6 2013.CNN Health, “Fatal brain disease potentially affects five people in Massachusetts,” September 6 2013.National Institute of Nuerological Disorders and Stroke, “Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Fact Sheet,” June 6 2013.UPI, “Five Massachusetts patients may have been exposed to brain disease,” September 6 2013.