Maine Medical Center on Wednesday announced that it has postponed elective surgeries at its Portland campus after it identified one patient as suspected of having a rare, pathogen-based condition known as prion disease.

In a statement, the hospital said the diagnosis has not yet been confirmed. Test results should be available by Friday.

Elective surgeries were postponed Wednesday and will be on Thursday as well. Maine Medical Center is sterilizing equipment and surgical processing areas.

Maine Med spokesman Clay Holtzman said the public, patients, and hospital staff are in no danger. He said prion disease is not airborne.

Prion disease is a fatal progressive neurodegenerative condition that affects the nervous system in humans and animals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Abnormal folding of the prion proteins leads to brain damage and is always fatal.

The Maine Medical Center patient – whose identity cannot be released under federal law – has not been confirmed to have the disease, but is undergoing testing at a national laboratory, Holtzman said.


Also known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, prion diseases include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (“mad cow” disease) in cattle; Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans; scrapie in sheep; and chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Prion disease is not contagious, but risk factors for the disease include a family history of prion disease, eating meat infected by “mad cow disease,” and infection from receiving contaminated corneas or from contaminated medical equipment.

“After consultation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention) and out of an abundance of caution, Maine Medical Center is going above and beyond the CDC’s recommended protocols,” Holtzman said in a statement.

Surgeries that were set for Wednesday and Thursday will be rescheduled.

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