GENTECH archive 8.96-97


vegetarian gets mad cow diasease

London Times   August 23 1997 

   New CJD strain threatens thousands
   THE number of cases of CJD could run into thousands, scientists fear,
   after the disclosure that a woman who has been vegetarian for 11 years
   is suffering from the new strain of the disease.
   If the condition of Clare Tomkins, 24, was caused by her eating
   BSE-infected beef she must have contracted the disease before 1986,
   the year in which the first case of BSE in cattle was confirmed.
   If this proves to be anything like the typical incubation period, it
   would dash any lingering hopes that the relatively few cases of the
   disease represent the peak of the epidemic and would not rise further.
   A study published earlier this year in the science journal Nature
   predicted between 156 and 213 cases with a ten-year incubation period,
   between 620 and 1,595 for a 15-year period, between 2,179 and 12,000
   with a 20-year period and between 7,000 and 88,000 with a 25-year
   Researchers will now also have to investigate whether meat may be
   infectious from cattle at an earlier stage of incubation of BSE than
   previously thought. If that is true many other people might have been
   infected by eating meat in the 1980s.
   Another avenue for scientists to explore could be the possibility that
   milk and cheese might be a source of infection, but most scientists
   believe Miss Tomkins is most likely to have eaten beef infected with
   BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, before she turned vegetarian.
   John Pattison, Professor of Medical Microbiology at University
   College, London, who chairs the committee which advises the Government
   on CJD, said: "It is an unusual case but I do not think it destroys
   our hypothesis that the most probable route for infection with the new
   strain of CJD is food containing contaminated beef.
   "This case does not change my personal view that, while one still
   cannot rule out the possibility of thousands of cases of new-variant
   CJD, the eventual number is more likely to be in the hundreds."
   Professor John Collinge, another member of the committee who heads the
   specialist CJD research unit at St Mary's Hospital, London, where Miss
   Tomkins' condition was diagnosed, said: "There is as yet no way of
   predicting whether Britain, and possibly Europe, will be confronted
   by, in medical terms, a very limited problem, or by a major epidemic."
   To date there have been only 22 cases of the new strain of CJD.