Human 'Mad Cow' Cases Reach 106 in the UK

Human 'Mad Cow' Cases Reach 106 in the UK

August 8, 2001 Reuters by Stephen Pincock

LONDON (Reuters Health) - The number of ``definite and probable'' cases of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (news - web sites) (vCJD), thought to be the human form of ``mad cow'' disease, has risen to 106 in the UK, the Department of Health said on Monday.

A monthly update on the disease from the National CJD Surveillance Unit shows that as of August 3rd, 14 people have died and been confirmed to have had vCJD this year. One other person thought to have the disease has died, but the brain biopsy needed to confirm vCJD has not yet been performed. Another seven living people have symptoms of the fatal condition, which classifies them as ``probable'' cases.

That brings to 106 the overall number of definite and probable cases of vCJD recorded by the surveillance unit since 1995.

Eating foods containing products from cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE (news - web sites)) is thought to transmit disease-causing prion proteins to humans. Although experts believe there was probably extensive exposure to disease-related prion proteins in the human food chain in the UK, they say there are too many uncertainties to predict how many more people will develop vCJD.

Earlier this year, Professor John Collinge, a member of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, which advises the government on BSE, told BBC radio that the average incubation period for the disease in humans could ``well be in the region of 30 years.''

He said thousands or tens of thousands more cases could emerge.

Professor Robert Will, director of the UK's National CJD Surveillance Unit, which monitors the epidemic, told Reuters Health that the latest figures are in line with current predictions that in the short term, the number of vCJD cases in the UK will double every 3 years.

As to what will happen in the longer term, Will said, ``My own personal view is that we can't say at the moment. We don't know for how long these trends will be maintained.''

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