UK Reports More Deaths Due
To New Variant Of Mad Cow/CJD

LONDON (Reuters Health) - The total number of British fatalities from new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has risen by 2 and now amounts to 35 as of November 30, 1998, according to the UK Department of Health.
New variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD) is a progressive, fatal illness that may be linked to consumption of meat from cattle infected with "mad cow disease,'' or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
The 35 cases represent all the definite and probable cases of new variant CJD that have been identified since 1995. There were 12 deaths due to nvCJD in 1998 as of November. This compares with 10 cases in 1997 and 10 cases in 1996. Three cases were reported in 1995.
The incidence of new variant CJD last year "remains comparable'' to that of the previous 2 years, said a spokeswoman for the Department of Health.
"At this stage, we cannot draw any conclusions about the overall trend of the incidence of the disease,'' she said.
Separately, researchers writing in the January 2nd issue of The Lancet conclude that Britons living near rendering plants that produce cattle meat and bone meal are at no greater risk of contracting new variant CJD compared with the rest of the population of the UK.
Dr. Simon N. Cousens of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and UK colleagues compared the distribution of rendering plants with the residential histories of Britons who had died of new variant CJD as of August 31, 1998. The number of new variant CJD cases among people living near the plants in 1988 was no greater than cases that might have been expected given no association between residence and risk of disease.
"There is no evidence that people with variant CJD tended to live closer than the population as a whole to rendering plants in the 1980s,'' the researchers conclude.
The most likely transmission route for the disease is exposure to beef infected with BSE, but this will be hard to prove, Cousens told Reuters Health.
"I think it's going to be very difficult to demonstrate in a positive way that it's food, because it is so problematic getting accurate data,'' he commented. He said that finding the likely transmission mechanism will involve a "process of elimination.''
SOURCE: The Lancet 1999;353:18-21.