If you are like a large majority of people in Massachusetts, when you go in for surgery, you probably aren’t worried about the cleanliness of the instruments being used. After all, this is the United States, where things like contaminated surgical instruments just don’t happen, right?

Sadly, mistakes can and do happen during the process of sterilizing surgical instruments. This is the case for instruments that were used in at least five surgeries at a hospital in Cape Cod this past summer and numerous other surgeries in New Hampshire. Although the instruments were sterilized normally, they were first used during an operation on a person suspected of having a variant of mad cow disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The disease’s infectious agent is known as a prion and is something that cannot be killed with normal sterilization procedures. Instead, a caustic chemical should be used to get rid of the prions.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the last time a contaminated piece of medical equipment was responsible for causing Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was in 1976, there is concern for the people who might have been exposed to the disease. Those patients are being closely monitored for signs of the disease.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said that the five patients who underwent surgery and came in contact with the contaminated instruments have a low risk of developing the disease that causes brain injury resulting in rapid memory loss and cognitive problems. This is because their spinal cords were operated on instead of their brains.

This situation is not something these patients should take lightly. They would be well advised to seek out the help of an attorney to ensure that they are properly compensated for the damages they suffered.

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