Counselling for patients at risk of CJD
THE health service will provide counselling for up to 20 people who are living under threat of Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) after undergoing surgery in Dublin's Beaumont Hospital.
The patients are at risk of infection with the fatal brain disease through contaminated surgical equipment used on another patient who was later discovered to have CJD.
They were contacted this weekend by the clinicians who treated them while they were at Beaumont Hospital.
A spokesman for the hospital last night said the issue was "incredibly difficult and sensitive" both "for one individual family and for others".
He said the hospital had decided that the best approach was to have the clinicians inform patients of the risk.
The Irish Patients' Association has called on the HSE and Beaumont Hospital to disclose how many patients have been affected by the CJD scare, and to provide the timeline of how it unfolded.
The HSE and Beaumont Hospital have refused to give the exact number of patients affected by the CJD risk, saying only that it was between 10 and 20.
Both also declined yesterday to disclose whether any children were amongst those put at risk. The details won't be made public, to protect the confidentiality of the patient who has contracted CJD and the others who have been put at risk of contracting it.
It has been confirmed, however, that a patient was operated on in Beaumont's neurosurgery department within the past four weeks.
The patient's tissue was later subjected to a "routine examination" in the laboratory. A further microscopic examination of the tissue revealed the presence of CJD.
Consultants isolated the patient and sought expert advice. The hospital also began tracing and isolating the surgical equipment used on that patient, as CJD is resistant to normal sterilisation methods. Surgical instruments must be sterilised more intensely and for longer in order to eradicate all traces of the disease.
The surgical instruments were quarantined. The hospital began a review last Thursday week of all surgeries in which the instruments had been used.
All planned neurosurgery procedures were postponed while the review was ongoing, with only emergency operations going ahead.
Now that all affected patients had been traced, planned neurosurgery operations would resume again tomorrow, a spokesman said.
A helpline will remain open this weekend but all callers will be told that if they have not already been contacted by a clinician, they are not at risk.
More than 1,300 people had contacted the helpline by Friday night, signalling the level of public disquiet caused by the CJD scare.
The HSE said support and counselling would be available for the affected patients, based on their "individual needs" and "as necessary".
There is no test to diagnose whether CJD is present, so the patients will have to be monitored on a regular basis for symptoms of the disease. A HSE spokesperson said the patients "may have a slightly higher risk of contracting CJD" than others.
Dr Kevin Kelleher, head of health protection at the HSE, said on Friday that the risk of the patients developing CJD could be anywhere between a one in 100,000 chance and one in a million.
He said around one person out of one million develops CJD in Ireland each year.
CJD is a rare and fatal condition caused by abnormal proteins in the brain that damage nerve cells. Patients usually survive for up to a year after diagnosis.
There were seven cases of CJD in Ireland in 2011, three in 2010 and five in 2009.