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VCJD cases to come after the mad cow disease scandal

Cow infected with BSE. On the picture in 2003

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Cow infected with BSE. On the picture in 2003

Scientists say more cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) are still to appear more than three decades after the "mad cow disease" scandal.

Richard Knight, Edinburgh-based senior neurologist, said there were still people "infected silently".

Since 1996, 177 people have died from vCJD, while more than four million cows have been destroyed to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

The issue is explored in a new BBC documentary on the food scandal.

He explains how, in 1985, the first case of BSE was detected on a farm in Wiltshire.

  • "Mad Cow Disease" at the Aberdeenshire Farm
  • "Mad cow disease": what is BSE?

BSE was linked to the practice of feeding cattle with an artificial protein supplement made from the remains of other animals in order to accelerate their growth.

In 1989, cases of BSE had exploded, causing the slaughter of 4.4 million cattle.

The documentary shows how the Conservative government of the time had failed to prevent cattle infected with BSE from entering the human food chain – and had not alerted the public about the potential dangers of the disease.

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Legend of the mediaAnnie McVey

In 1996, it was known that 10 people had contracted a human form of the disease – vCJD.

VCJD progressively attacks the brain, but can remain dormant for decades. It is incurable and incurable despite decades of research.

There is no test to determine if a person has the disease.

"Infected food products"

In 2013, researchers reported that one in every 2,000 people in the United Kingdom had vCJD, which was linked to the consumption of contaminated beef.

And a report drafted by a committee of deputies in 2014 indicated that tens of thousands of people could be "silent" carriers of prions at the origin of the disease – blood transfusions were considered an essential source of transmission.

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Contaminated beef from cows infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy was the cause of human vCJD

Professor Knight said: "One of the uncertain things is the number of people silently infected in the UK.

"All our predictions suggest that there will be other cases."

However, Colin Smith, professor of neuropathology at the University of Edinburgh, said that there was no need for "big alarm" and that the number of pending cases would likely relatively small.

He told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland program that the incubation period for vCJD could last several decades.

He said: "It is important to emphasize that we do not suggest that people are currently infected.

"It's an exposure to infected food products in the late 80s and early 90s. And now, about 30 years later, maybe 40 or 50 years, the patients may begin to show symptoms of the disease. "

Food chain

Professor Smith said the symptoms included psychological problems such as depression and hallucinations, associated with neurological effects, including instability and uncontrollable movements.

He added: "We have ongoing monitoring to try to identify people who are likely to have vCJD in the coming years and our forecasts are – and I have to point out – that it will probably work of a relatively small number of people ".

The first case of BSE in Scotland in ten years was confirmed last year after the death of a cow on a Huntly farm.

However, Professor Smith said strict controls prevent infected livestock products from entering the food chain.

It is estimated that the BSE scandal cost the NHS more than £ 1 billion and almost destroyed the UK beef industry.

Mad Cow Disease: The Great British Beef Scandal Is Released Later BBC2 at 21:00.

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