Uh-Oh...Man And His
Cat Both Develop CJD
(Mad Cow) At Same Time
By Patricia Reany

LONDON (October 1, 1998 6:08 p.m. EDT - Italian doctors said on Friday they had found an unusual case of a man and his cat who developed Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease simultaneously. The researchers said the strain of the degenerative brain disorder had never been found in a cat before and seems to be similar to the disease in its owner.
"We do not know whether it had been transmitted between the man and the cat. What we have found in this case is that the man and the cat show almost the same pathology," Dr. Gianluigi Zanusso, of the University of Verona, said in a telephone interview.
Cases of spongiform encephalopathies, the group of brain wasting diseases that includes mad cow disease (BSE) and the human equivalent CJD, have been reported in cats before.
But unlike all the other feline cases whose illness resembled BSE, the disease discovered in the Italian cat was similar to the sporadic form of CJD of its owner.
The unidentified 60-year-old man, who died three months after being admitted to hospital, had the most common form of the brain disorder that scientists believe is caused by a mishaped brain protein known as a prion.
It was not a new variant CJD that strikes much younger people and which has been linked to eating beef contaminated with BSE.
In a letter to The Lancet medical journal, Zanusso said the occurrence of the disease in the man and his cat could be pure coincidence, an infection from a common source, or a result of horizontal transmission between the owner and his pet.
He and his colleagues are injecting mice with samples of brain tissue from the man and the cat to confirm it is the same strain of disease in both.
Zanusso said the cat developed behavioral changes and features that were also different from other reported cases of the feline disease.
Researchers have ruled out food contamination as the source of the infection because they found a different strain of the prion protein from the ones usually transmitted through food.
Zanusso said the cat died several months after the owner which could suggest the animal caught the disease from the man.
Dr. Moria Bruce, a researcher at the Institute of Animal Health in Edinburgh who has done extensive research on prions, said the evidence that the man and the cat had the same strain of disease needs to be confirmed by transmission studies.
"It could be coincidence and it is obviously very interesting," she told Reuters.