In tragic death, a call for calm

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In tragic death, a call for calm

A Korean woman has died from the country’s first case of iatrogenic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (iCJD), which is related to fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).

According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 54-year-old patient died of iCJD after her brain was affected during a surgery to remove meningioma tumors in 1987. During the surgery, Lyodura, a material produced in Germany that was made from the dura mater of a human cadaver, was used. Doctors believe the Lyodura was made from a CJD-infected cadaver, and that’s how the Korean woman was infected with the disease.

According to the health authorities, iCJD is an extremely rare disease with only around 400 cases in 20 countries across the world. The Korean victim died last November, 23 years after she had been infected.

The medical team’s discovery that the woman died from iCJD can be attributed to their persistent efforts to find the exact cause of her death. The disease usually breaks out during surgery, and brain transplant surgeries in particular.

Following a series of scientific examinations, doctors have proved that the woman’s death was not related to vCJD, which is fatal. Dr. Kim Yun-joong, a neurologist at Hallym University’s College of Medicine, has confirmed that the woman did not die from vCJD.

But the health authorities were notified of the iCJD infection in October last year, and we are concerned that they may have attempted to conceal the case.

The real cause of the woman’s death was made public after Dr. Kim announced the results of his team’s study of the patient.

It may be a long time before the results of a thorough scientific study are published in a world-renowned medical journal. But such an attitude could bring about unnecessary misunderstandings, too. One top government official said that he is worried that this incident could stir another controversy over the dreadful disease.

We must, however, put behind us the psychological trauma we had to suffer at the peak of the totally groundless rumors about mad cow disease and U.S. beef imports in 2008.

The medical community must confidently announce the results of their examination to the public. At the same time, it must track down all of the patients who underwent brain tumor transplant surgeries with dura mater imported from Germany.
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