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Next Big Hospital Infections May Not Be Viruses

December 17th, 2018

By Zach Christiansen of The Bowling Christiansen Law Firm, A Professional Law Corporation on Monday, December 17, 2018.

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana. There exists a kind of disease that cannot be killed by intense heat or disinfectants. No amount of alcohol, peroxide, Clorox, bleach, or heat will kill it. The disease is caused by prions, or infected proteins. Prions are a virulent type of protein.

Before we can understand how prions cause disease, we need to understand how healthy proteins work. According to Science Daily, proteins work in our bodies because they fold into a shape that allows them to serve their function. Their chemical composition dictates their shape. Imagine a Slinky and its tendency to expand or contract due to its shape. Proteins work in a similar fashion. Prions, on the other hand, are proteins that have misfolded. Imagine a broken Slinky that no longer works. What’s alarming about prions is that when one of these misfolded proteins encounters a properly folded protein, it can cause the properly folded protein to fold incorrectly. The process is irreversible and can lead to serious illness and death. Mad cow disease is linked to a prion.

Prion diseases can be spread by eating contaminated meat, as in the case of mad cow, but prions can also be transmitted by doctors who are performing a surgical operation on a person with prion disease. Because the prions are not easily destructed using traditional disinfectant means, the prions can be transferred on surgical equipment. According to Scientific American, there is some concern that prion disease could be transmitted through transplants, from growth hormone taken from cadavers, and through transmissions from surgical equipment.

Some early recommendations suggest that hospitals should use single-use surgical equipment to prevent the transmission of prion disease during surgery.

One area of great concern is in corneal transplants, where prion disease has been found. 64,000 corneal transplants are performed in the U.S. each year, according to Scientific American.

Another concern is that diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease also involve the accumulation of misfolded proteins in the brain. One writer for Scientific American expressed concern that ophthalmological equipment and surgical equipment could potentially be a vector for these diseases, especially if diseased proteins can be found in the eye.

While this is purely speculative, research needs to be done. Prion diseases can be devastating and often lead to death. While we are not likely to see lawsuits for prion infection anytime soon, doctors and hospitals should take precautions to stem off all vectors of disease for patients in their care.

Have you been hurt due to a surgical error? Have you gotten sick during a hospital stay due to a hospital infection? You may be entitled to seek damages for your losses and injuries under the law. The The Bowling Christiansen Law Firm is a medical malpractice law Firm in New Orleans, Louisiana who helps victims seek damages for their medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering damages. Visit our Firm at to learn more about your rights if you believe you have been hurt, suffered an infection, or experienced a surgical error. You may only have a limited amount of time to make a claim.

The Bowling Christiansen Law Firm, A Professional Law Corporation

1615 Poydras Street, Suite 1050

New Orleans, Louisiana, 70112

Phone: (504) 586-5200

Toll Free: (504) 586-5200

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