- LONDON (Reuters) - British
government scientists said on Tuesday there was a theoretical risk that
variant Creutzfeldt -Jakob Disease (vCJD), the human form of mad cow disease,
could be transmitted from person to person via dental instruments.
- The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC),
set up by the government to monitor the brain-wasting disease, told a news
conference it had asked the Department of Health to urge dentists to be
vigilant in their sterilization practices.
- ``There is a theoretical risk of person to person transmission
of the disease (from dentistry),'' said Peter Smith, acting chairman of
- He stressed ``the need for thorough cleaning and sterilization
practices be observed'' and did not think there was any reason at the moment
to recommend changes in dental procedures.
- But he also warned: ``Sterilization does not completely
inactivate the agent that causes the disease'', and called for a full theoretical
risk assessment and further analysis of oral tissue from vCJD patients
to improve knowledge of the risk.
- SEAC said last month that incidence of the deadly human
form of BSE in Britain was increasing by a ``statistically significant''
20 to 30 percent a year.
- Smith said on Tuesday that latest figures show a total
of 77 ``definite'' and ``probable'' cases of the disease had been identified
in Britain. Eight of those patients are still alive.
- Last month the government launched an urgent inquiry
into a cluster of CJD deaths around the small village of Queniborough in
- Three of the four victims died within weeks of each other
and all lived within a close radius.
- Dr Robert Will, head of the government's CJD surveillance
unit, said at the time that baby food and school meals may have been a
major source for the Queniborough outbreak.
- The Health Department has ordered tests of more than
10,000 tonsils and appendices removed since 1985 to find out how many people
in Leicestershire have contracted the disease.
- Smith said the investigation, which is unlikely to report
its findings until the end of the year, might give scientists more clues
about the disease.
- But he warned that investigations into cluster groups
of other diseases did not always prove that useful.
- ``But that is not to prejudge what is going to happen
with the Leicestershire cluster. The hope is of course that this will tell
- Many scientists believe humans contract the disease by
eating meat from cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE), or mad cow disease.
- Outbreaks of BSE all but crippled Britain's beef industry
in the late 1990s and provoked a bitter political row within Europe over
whose beef was safe to eat.
- European Union scientists said on Tuesday that mad cow
disease is probably present in cattle in Germany, Spain and Italy even
though these countries say they are free of it.
- The EU executive said scientists believed that in these
states the risk of mad cow infection in cattle was ``likely to be present
at levels below the detection limits of their surveillance systems.''
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