UK: New research leads to CJD fears
Scientists from the Institute of Animal Health have released new research into BSE, or mad cow disease, today (15 September), leading to fears that people may be able to contract the disease through blood transfusions from others who appear perfectly healthy. Previously, there has been no evidence of infectivity with BSE. In a report in the Lancet journal, scientists were anxious to stress the importance of the findings, which have been published before the study has been completed. Dr Chris Bostock said, "this report suggests that blood donated by symptom-free vCJD-infected human beings may represent a risk of spread of vCJD infection among the human population of the UK."This new evidence is the result of experiments with nineteen UK sheep, which were deliberately fed cattle-brain infected with BSE. Blood was then taken from the animals before they exhibited any signs of illness, and was transfused into healthy sheep in New Zealand. One of the transfused sheep has now developed BSE after 610 days.Because Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is believed to be a human variant of BSE, the agent causing the animal disease being indistinguishable from that which causes vCJD, scientists now hope to use the evidence in their examination of the human illness.It is common practise in UK hospitals that all donated blood is filtered to remove the cells that may contain vCJD, but until now this has merely been precautionary, a safeguard and not a necessity. With this new report has come hope of a developing a test for the diagnosis of the human disease while still in its early stages. BSE activity in sheep blood was apparent early in their incubation period and doctors believe this will mean that they can test the effectiveness of removing the leucocyte cells from the blood, which are those potentially affected by vCJD, and develop the diagnostic test. The next meeting of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) will examine this research on 29 September.
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