Funeral Workers Live In
Fear of CJD (Mad Cow)
Prions In Corpses
Adrienne Arsenault reports for CBC TV
Tom Walker reports for CBC Radio
New missile attacks
OTTAWA - The World Health Organization is meeting in Geneva, Switzerland this week to talk about Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The rare illness attacks the brain, and is linked to so-called "mad cow disease" in Britain.
Scientists from all over the world are in Geneva. They're hoping to set up guidelines for health care and funeral workers who deal with C.J.D. victims.
Creutzfeldt Jakob disease has become a worry for the people who treat victims. In fact, some funeral workers in Canada and the U.S. are now refusing to embalm the bodies of people who've died of the disease.
Medical studies show that the infectious agent doesn't die under standard sterilization, such as heat or chemicals.
The biggest danger for the embalmer is contact with the highly infectious brain and spinal fluids.
"The scary part about C.J.D. is we don't have the proper equipment," says Patrick McGarry, an Ottawa funeral director. "It's very expensive, beyond our means for just an embalming. We do have specialized solutions. But they haven't found anything that will kill this disease."
McGarry's policy is not to embalm. But not all funeral workers refuse the service; in fact, some have never even heard of the disease.
The World Health Organization is hoping to get the word out. Ottawa bioethicist, Burleigh Trevor Deutsh is at this week's meeting.
"The World Health Organization has the responsibility to keep an eye out for this kind of thing and to set up rules of practise, safe practice, that are applicable world wide, because of the uniqueness of C.J.D. This is an ideal for the WHO to address."
The meeting is expected to result in new infection control guidelines for hospital, home care and funeral home settings. It may include rules about destroying surgical instruments used on C.J.D. patients. Funeral homes may also be encouraged to buy specialized, hi-tech sterilization equipment.
Health Canada expects to put out its own infection control guidelines next fall.