Are More People Infected with vCJD Than Previously Thought

A report this week in the Lancet raises the possibility that the number of people infected with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — believed to be contracted from exposure to mad cow disease — may be larger than originally thought.

Models that have predicted relatively low total cases rest on a number of assumptions, including that vCJD appeared to infect only a minority of Caucasian with a specific genetic profile. But The Lancet report describes the discovery of vCJD infection in an individual who did not share that specific genetic profile.

The deceased, who died from causes unrelated to vCJD, apparently contracted the disease not from eating infected meat, however, but rather through a blood transfusion from an individual who was infected with vCJD. This is the second known case of transmission of vCJD through blood transfusion.

Second, the deceased’s vCJD infection was located not in the brain or nervous system, but rather in the spleen, explaining why the deceased never developed any symptoms of the disease.


Blood Transfusion Linked to 2nd Human Case of Mad Cow. Mark Kaufman, Washington Post, August 5, 2004.

Mad cow may be more widespread. Emma Ross, Associated Press, August 5, 2004.

Scientists warn Britain of possible ‘mad cow’ disease epidemic. Agence-France Press, August 6, 2004.

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