LONDON-A group of prominent epidemiologists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have reported that mad cow disease, clinically known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans, will probably claim 100 lives per year in Britain, killing no more than a few thousand people total.
However, the report, published last week in the journal Science, has quickly been labeled overly optimistic by another group of British epidemiologists who have estimated the death toll closer to 136,000 in the next few decades.
Point being, the research and knowledge surrounding the brain wasting disease are still be developed. Researchers know very little about the misfolded proteins, called prions, and why they revolt and attack the body. This action causes small holes in the brain, leaving the organ resembling a sponge. Hence the medical terminology for mad cow-bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
The disease has scared many in Europe, especially the United Kingdom. More than 100 people have died of the mysterious neurological disorder, with the majority of those being from the UK.
Doctors suspect humans become infected with vCJD by eating meat from cattle with BSE or mad cow disease.
Recent studies show the first 100 patients may have been genetically disposed to develop the disease at a quicker rate than others. It is thought that people contract variant CJD by eating beef infected with BSE. The disease was found in cattle in 1986 and developed into an epidemic when farmers fed healthy cows with recycled meat of infected cows.
In 1996, it was announced that the disease could infect humans. The method of diagnosing humans is through autopsy and there is no treatment for the neurological disorder.
Britain stopped burying cattle in 1992 to prevent spreading the disease. Infected cattle are now cremated in special incinerators. Many cattle thought to be ill have been killed. The number of animals slaughtered or buried whole during the recent foot and mouth epidemic has left researchers wondering if the disease could enter the water supply.
The Agriculture Ministry is investigating the possibility.
The second group of epidemiologists will also be publishing their results surrounding the expected death toll of the disease in an upcoming article.
There have been no cases of vCJD reported in the US to date.
Information from www.sfgate.com, previous Infection Control Today articles.