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Canadian Dies of Mad Cow Disease

First Canadian dies of human mad cow strain

Story by Kanina Holmes
CANADA: August 9, 2002

WINNIPEG, Manitoba - A man in Western Canada has become the nation's first
victim of the human strain of mad cow disease, but the patient likely
contracted variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in Britain and health
authorities declared on Thursday there was no threat to the general public.

"All evidence points to the person having acquired variant CJD, this
disease, from multiple long-term stays in the U.K.," Dr. Antonio Giulivi of
Health Canada told reporters.

"There is no evidence that mad cow disease has entered the Canadian food
supply, and therefore we can reassure the Canadian public the person did not
acquire the disease in Canada," said Giulivi, who directs the acquired
infections division of the federal health department.

At a nationally broadcast news conference, local, provincial and federal
health officials said the victim was a man under the age of 50 who lived in
Saskatchewan, a key farming province in the Canadian Prairies.

The man worked and lived in Britain in the 1990s and regularly ate processed
meat products and beef at a time when cases of bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, peaked. Citing
confidentiality rules, health authorities would release few other details
about the victim.

New variant CJD, is a rare and deadly degenerative brain disorder linked to
eating meat from cattle infected with BSE. It has an average incubation
period of seven to 15 years. Once symptomatic, patients usually die with 14
months. Doctors said they first suspected the man had the disease in April.
A positive diagnosis was made only following his death and after tissue
samples were sent to British experts.

Worldwide, about 135 cases of vCJD have been reported, 125 of them in
Britain, where scientists warned last month that dozens would die there from
the disease this year.

Last April, the United States reported its first probable case of vCJD in a
22-year-old British woman in Florida. U.S. officials said she, too, most
likely contracted the disease while living in Britain.


After beef consumption dramatically declined in Britain and Japan as a
result of BSE scares, the cattle industry is now concerned that a North
American case would batter beef sales in Canada and the United States.
Canada is among the world's top beef exporters, with exports in 2001
worth C$2.2 billion ($1.4 billion). About half the beef produced is consumed
domestically while 70 percent of exports are sold to the United States.
There have been no cases of BSE in native cattle in North America. In 1993,
Canada reported BSE in a single cow imported from Britain. That animal and
its herdmates were destroyed.

Like the United States, Canada no longer imports animals or meat products
from countries where there is a BSE risk. "We've continually met or exceeded
the international requirements of surveillance for BSE. That program is
ongoing and it's increased every year," said Sandra Stephens, a veterinary
program specialist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. "That gives us
a fair degree of confidence that we do not have BSE in the Canadian cattle
population," Stephens said. The largest U.S. cattle organization, the
National Cattlemen's Beef Association, also said on Thursday there was no
need for consumers to be alarmed. Canada's elk ranching industry has been
devastated by the discovery in 1996 of chronic wasting disease, a disorder
similar to mad cow disease. Three cases of CWD have been detected in wild
deer in Saskatchewan, most recently in June. Health officials said on
Thursday the Canadian vCJD victim did not eat venison or elk.

But there were other public health concerns, including fears of possible
transmission to 71 other patients at a Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, hospital who
came into contact with medical equipment previously used on the vCJD victim.

"We have been contacting these patients over the last 24 hours to notify
them of the facts and to explain the extremely minute risk that they have
been exposed to the new variant CJD agent," said Dr. Stephen Whitehead,
a Saskatchewan medical health officer. Officials said the risk of cross
contamination was tiny, given regular cleaning and disinfection of the
equipment. ($1=$1.58 Canadian).

Story by Kanina Holmes


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