- 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
- 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.
- SUSPECTED CASE
- 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.