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US investigates case of human mad cow disease


October 17, 2002 Agence France Presse by Jon Henley

US health authorities said Thursday they are investigating a case of variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (vCJD) in a British-born Florida resident.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the case, first reported in April, concerns a woman who "was likely exposed to the agent of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, mad cow disease) while in the United Kingdom where she was born, and lived until 1992." The CDC's Morbidity and Mortality weekly report said the disease has a "probable incubation period of between nine to 21 years" and that "the patient is unlikely to have transmitted the disease to to others".

It added that "this case underscores the importance of physicians increasing their suspicion for vCJD in patients presenting with clinical features consistent with those of the Florida patient and who have spent time in areas with endemic BSE."

The first death in North America due to the variant CJD was reported in Canada in August. Canadian authorities insisted the patient had most likely caught it while in Britain.

Classic CJD, characterized by dementia, tends to affect people between 60 and 65. The new less rare disease affects younger people and is characterized by a psychiatric disorder as well as trouble walking.

Britain has recorded over 110 cases of vCJD since 1996, linked to beef infected with mad cow disease, and at least 100 people have died.

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