Two patients may be infected with an illness thought by scientists to be caused by mad cow disease, Thailand's Public Health Ministry said today (9 February). It is thought that the patients may have the human equivalent new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which is thought to be linked to BSE.

"It's no longer a novel disease. It's here," Somwang Darnchaiwichit, vice president for research at the Mahidol University, was quoted as saying.

Thai news agencies are reporting that a news conference will be called on Monday, when further details would be announced.

Thailand has been identified as having a high risk of BSE by British authorities because it bought potentially tainted animal feed from the UK at the height of its epidemic in the early 1990's.

Concerned by the outbreak of the disease in Europe, Thailand banned the import of beef from seven European countries two weeks ago - Portugal, France, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. The Thai Food and Drug Administration also released lists of imported beef products that it said consumers should avoid buying from supermarkets.

To read the just-food.com feature "Mad cow crisis has Asia within its reach," click here.