Japan's first suspected case of human-form mad cow disease reported

October 18, 2001 Agence France Presse
Japan's first possible case of the human form of mad cow disease was reported Thursday while the country declared domestic beef safe to eat as it launched nationwide testing of cattle.

Nearly a month after Asia's first case of mad cow disease was confirmed at a dairy farm near Tokyo, the government launched testing of all beef cattle across the country for the deadly brain-wasting disease.

But a teenage girl at a hospital in greater Tokyo may be suffering from the human variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) caused by mad cow disease, the Kyodo news agency and other media reported. There have been no confirmed cases in Japan of the human variant of the disease, which is called vCJD.

Meanwhile the health minister, Chikara Sakaguchi, assured that any domestic beef put on the market would be "safe" because cows which tested positive for mad cow disease would be barred.

"Only safe meat will be distributed in the market hereafter," the minister told a news conference.

The farming minister Tsutomu Takebe made a similar declaration.

In the nationwide campaign to stamp out the disease, some 1.3 million cows to be slaughtered in the coming year for human consumption will undergo preliminary tests at 117 meat inspection centres.

If test results are positive, samples of the cows will be sent to designated national laboratories for final tests.

In the suspected vCJD case, the girl was first hospitalised at a neurology clinic with convulsions in July and was later transferred to a general hospital in late September, the reports said.

She had shown symptoms similar to those of other CJD patients -- staggering, memory loss and dementia, the report said.

CJD can be hereditary or contracted through transplants of dura mater, the fibrous membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

It can also be contracted in sporadic outbreaks, which have no known causes.

There is also a fourth new variation, believed to be contracted through contaminated beef, the first case of which was confirmed in Britain in 1996.

More than 100 people have died of this variant of the disease in Britain.

In the case of the Japanese girl, the hospital has ruled out the possibility of the first two forms and, since the patient does not show signs of special brain waves typically seen in the third type of CJD, believes she might be suffering from the new variant, Kyodo quoted hospital sources as saying.

It was expected to take about three more months to confirm whether the patient was actually infected with vCJD, the sources said.

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