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Dealing with prion-infected surgical instruments

| Nov 17, 2017 | Surgical Errors

Continuous research is constantly leading to discoveries that introduce new knowledge into the medical field. It is up to healthcare providers in Queens to stay current with the latest news related to their disciplines. Doing so helps ensure that their patients are not subjected to avoidable medical and surgical errors. Thus, a lack of knowledge about a particular hazard may not suffice as a defense to claims of negligence

Take the issue of surgical instrument sterilization. Most might assume that hospitals and surgical centers strive to ensure that all tools and instruments are cleaned to the highest of standards. Yet research has revealed that in certain cases, standard cleaning methods may not be enough to stop disease transmission through contaminated instruments. 

Prion diseases are those associated with unusual misfolded proteins that kill cells by attacking healthy proteins. According to information shared by the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, large concentrations of prions can be found in the brain and spinal cord, which puts patients whose procedures require the use of neurosurgical instruments at an increased risk of transmission. The trouble is that traditional physical and chemical sterilization techniques have proven to be ineffective at killing prions. 

Case data shared by Scientific American reveals that the cause of death of two people in Switzerland in the late 1970’s was attributed to the prion infection Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It is believed they contracted CJD from the use of electrodes that had been utilized in the case of a CJD patient two years prior, meaning the pathogen survived on the instrument that entire time. 

Scientific American reports that steam-heating surgical instruments in an autoclave at 121 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes greatly weakens prions. However, providers (especially those working neurosurgery) must first understand the potential risks before seeing the need to adopt such drastic sterilization methods. 

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