London Times August 23 1997
New CJD strain threatens thousands BY MICHAEL HORNSBY, AGRICULTURE CORRESPONDENT 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 period. 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.
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