Two patients have died at St. Joseph hospital in Colorado this year from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of Mad Cow Disease, and there is concern that other patients may have been exposed to it, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The outbreak is not believed related to Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis, but the specific prion involved has not yet been identified.

The patients, who were both over 60, died in January and February. Six other people had brain surgery at the hospital, using the same set of instruments used on the CJD victims before their diagnosis was confirmed. The brain tissue of the victims was sent to the Mayo Clinic for analysis.

The surgical instruments were sterilized after use, but conventional sterilization techniques do not kill the prions that cause CJD. As soon as CJD was discovered to be the cause of death, the instruments used on these patients were quarantined.

There is no test to determine whether a living person has CJD and there is no cure. The 6 patients will be tacked for years to see if they develop the disease. ?We don?t even know if these people have been exposed, and that?s the hard part,? said Dr. Bill Marsh. ?We think the chances are very low, but I can?t put a number on it.?

Cindy Parmenter of the Colorado Dept. of Public Health & Environment says there are about two cases of CJD reported in Colorado every year. ?We had 4 in 2000 and two or three in years before that,? she said. ?It usually happens in people 60 or older. It?s not totally unusual.?

However, the deaths of two people from CJD at the same hospital within a few weeks of each other is extremely rare, the hospital said. They feel that the two deaths are unrelated.

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