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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Surgery flaws pose CJD risk
Surgical instruments
Cases of variant CJD in the UK have risen by a fifth
A Welsh Assembly audit of hospitals, GP and dental practices has identified major flaws in the sterilisation of surgical instruments to reduce the risk of transmitting vCJD.

The number of people developing variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) in the UK has risen by a fifth in the past year and it is feared that instruments could become infected during surgery.

The recent findings follows concerns that patients receiving eye surgery were at risk of contracting the disease from surgical instruments.


Neurological surgery is considered high risk but with the nature of Variant CJD it was considered appropriate to look at all surgical procedures

Report author Dr Mike Simmonds
It is thought that the risk could be greater than that posed by instruments used to remove the tonsils - which the Department of Health has recommended should only be used once and then thrown away.

A team from the Prion Unit at Imperial College School of Medicine in London developed a highly sensitive way to detect the particles thought to cause the fatal brain disease.

These are known as disease-related prion proteins (PrPSC).

The scientists used the test to carry out analysis of tissue samples from four patients who had died of vCJD.

They found PrPSC was present in tonsil, spleen, lymph-node and retina tissue.

The Welsh Assembly survey, published on Tuesday, found that 55% of hospital Trusts do not have adequate facilities to manage and monitor the decontamination of surgical instruments.

Surgical instruments

To reduce the risk of vCJD it is also vital to be able to trace surgical instruments back to specific patients, but only 40% of health trusts said they had the ability to do this.

Dr Mike Simmons of the assembly's health protection directorate, said: "The surgical process particularly on the more so called risky procedures like neurological surgery or back of the eye are considered high risk but with the nature of variant CJD it was considered appropriate to look at all surgical procedures."

Extra funding

A total of 2m of additional funding has been provided by the Assembly to upgrade equipment across Wales - but the report says the cost of upgrading work needed over the next two financial years is 6m.

Variant CJD is the new form of the disease which researchers suspect may be linked to consumption of BSE-infected meat.

It tends to affect people who are younger than typical sufferers of the original, sporadic form.

Sufferers studied in the UK had an average age of around 27 years, while sporadic CJD sufferers tend to be between 50 and 75 years old.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Wales's Susie Phillips reports
"Another 6m needs to be spent in the next two years"

CJD

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Background

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See also:

04 Jan 01 | Scotland
Single-use scalpels to combat CJD
04 Jan 01 | Health
Hospital drive to cut CJD risk
19 Jul 01 | Health
CJD risk from eye operations
10 Feb 99 | Health
Sterilisation 'can spread CJD'
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