Japanese Girl Being
Monitored For Mad Cow vCJD
By Masayuki Kitano

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese teen-ager is being monitored to see if she has contracted the human form of mad cow disease, but Health Ministry officials said Thursday it was unlikely she was suffering from the brain-wasting illness.
"We were notified by a hospital on September 20 that there is such a patient..." a ministry spokesman quoted Health Minister Chikara Sakaguchi as telling a parliamentary committee meeting.
But after the patient was examined the next day it was "strongly felt" she did not have the disease, Sakaguchi said.
The minister's comments followed media reports that a teenage girl at a Tokyo hospital may be suffering from a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), which scientists suspect may be caused by eating beef from cows affected by mad cow disease.
An examination by the ministry's CJD committee, while inconclusive, seemed to show that the patient did not have the variant of CJD, Sakaguchi said.
Japan Thursday proclaimed home-grown beef to be safe to eat as the Health Ministry began testing for mad cow disease among all cows to be processed for food.
"We have established a system under which only safe beef will be sold in the market," Agriculture Minister Tsutomu Takebe told a joint news conference with Sakaguchi.
"It will be the safest meat in the world."
Japanese consumers have been shying away from beef following the discovery of Japan's first case of mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform enephalopathy (BSE), in a Holstein dairy cow on a farm near Tokyo on September 10.
In Europe, more than 100 people have contracted the human form of BSE, and such cases in Britain are said to have increased by 20 percent last year.
No cases have been reported in Japan, where last year 97 patients were newly reported as having contracted other, classic forms of CJD.
Both the variant and classic forms of CJD are fatal brain disorders. CJD causes rapid deterioration of the brain with progressive dementia and loss of physical functions, and usually leads to death within one or two years.
Kyodo news agency said the teen-ager was initially taken to a neurology hospital during the summer with convulsions but was transferred to a general hospital after showing symptoms similar to those of CJD patients -- staggering, memory loss and dementia.
Hisashi Miyazaki, head of the Health Ministry's press office, said it was not even certain that the girl was suffering from classic CJD, much less the variant.
"It was agreed that it was necessary to monitor the patient's progress," he said, adding that it usually took around six months from the time symptoms were detected to determine whether a patient has contracted CJD.
Hospitals in Japan are required to report suspected cases of the CJD variant to the ministry.
This is not the first time that CJD has attracted media attention in Japan.
A medical scandal surfaced in December 1997, when a criminal suit was filed alleging that patients had contracted CJD through the use of contaminated brain membrane.


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