- LONDON - Britain saw a rise in deaths from the human equivalent of "mad
cow'' disease in the last quarter of 1998 but scientists said on Thursday
it was too early to tell if this was due to chance.
- Nine people died of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob
(nvCJD) disease, a degenerative brain disorder, in the final quarter of
last year, according to the latest figures from a national surveillance
unit that monitors the disease.
- The previous highest total in a single
quarter had been six.
- Doctors at the London School of Hygiene
and Tropical Medicine warned that the unusually high number of deaths should
be interpreted with caution and could be due to many factors.
- "The number of variant CJD deaths
during the coming years will provide a clearer indication of whether the
apparent increase in deaths towards the end of 1998 was a chance observation
or marks a change in the underlying mortality rate,'' Simon Cousens and
his colleagues said in a letter published in The Lancet medical journal.
- Improvements in identifying the disease
could be one reason for the high number of deaths, they said.
- So far 39 people have died from nvCJD,
which scientists have linked to eating beef contaminated with bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease.
- British scientists have recommended using
disposable surgical instruments, after research showed that the infectious
brain prion that causes the disease could be spread through surgical procedures.
- Australian scientists also reported that
surgery could increase a person's risk of getting sporadic CJD, a strain
of the disorder that occurs in one in a million people a year and usually
affects older people. The doctors at the University of Melbourne said it
could also have implications for nvCJD, which hits much younger people.
- A public inquiry into the outbreak and
handling of the BSE crisis in Britain, which resulted in the slaughter
of thousands of cattle and a ban on British beef exports, is expected to
publish its findings later this year.