Should you believe the headlines about Alzheimer’s being contagious?

Should you believe the headlines about Alzheimer’s being contagious?

A new study suggested the "seeds" of dementia could be passed on through surgery, but it's not time to panic.

Headline watchers got quite a scare yesterday as a spate of news outlets reported new research suggesting Alzheimer’s can be transmitted through surgery.

As the Huffington Post wrote, researchers at University College London found in a study that the prions, proteins that are linked to causing dementia, can resist sterilization and stay on surgical equipment.  Theoretically, this means that the proteins from one person’s brain can be transferred to another during surgery.

In the research, scientists were following 8 subjects who developed a different form of brain damage, Creutzfeldt Jakob disease.  These patients all had proteins in their brain that the scientists theorized came from human hormone injections they received as children.

Lead researcher Professor John Collinge said that, “You could have three different ways you have these protei seeds generated in your brain.  Either they happen spontaneously, an unlucky event as you age, or you have a faulty gene, or you’ve been exposed to a medical accident.  That’s what we’re hypothesizing.”

The idea that Alzheimer’s may be “contagious” spread through the news like wildfire but experts are urging people to be calm.  As Sky News explains, the original study wasn’t even done on people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  In addition, the brain needs a second kind of protein, tau, to build up dementia, which was not found in any of the subjects.

Finally, multiple safety precautions are in place to prevent just this sort of contamination.  Many surgical instruments are only used once.

In short, while more research certainly needs to be done, health experts are advising to continue to receive surgeries without fears of dementia down the line.


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