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Hidden CJD is new threat to thousands
THOUSANDS of people in Britain may be infected with variant CJD, the human equivalent of mad cow disease, without knowing it, research suggests.
Experiments have confirmed that it is possible for a much wider group of people than had been assumed to be infected with the incurable brain condition. The presence in the population of undetected carriers of the infection has serious implications for the safety of the blood supply, and it increases the risk of passing on vCJD to others through infected surgical instruments.
It could make it much harder to eliminate the human infection, even though cattle no longer carry it. Potentially it could linger for generations, or for ever. The team behind the research suggested that their finding represented a “significant public health issue”.
Some people carry the agent but never show symptoms, while others develop the disease after many years. It causes a change in personality, loss of body function and eventual death.
Scientists from Edinburgh said vCJD posed a "significant public health issue."
The experts also found that vCJD could be passed from human to human through secondary transmission - such as blood transfusions and contaminated surgical equipment - "with relative efficiency".
The study, published online today by The Lancet Neurology, said people may not know they have the agent for vCJD and thus there is a risk "of further disease transmission" through blood transfusions or equipment.
The scientists, from the National CJD Surveillance Unit and the Institute for Animal Health in Edinburgh, noted that there had been 161 reported cases of vCJD in the UK.
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"But researchers who tested 12,674 appendix and tonsil samples found three showed signs of apparent vCJD, indicating around 3,800 people could ultimately be affected.
However, only one of the three positive samples actually matched those taken from people who had been diagnosed with the clinical disease. "