- "...Perhaps there may be many more patients with
developing CJD who have been contaminated with surgical instruments. Contaminated
surgical instruments may not be a problem for many British women, because
they are already infected directly from cattle."
- By Keith Lee - www.wsws.org site 3-17-00
- Doctors in Britain are concerned that a 24-year-old mother
has passed on the fatal human form of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
or "mad cow disease") to her baby, now four months old.
- Twenty-four hours after birth the baby was taken away
because it was failing to feed and in need of help. The mother, who cannot
be named for legal reasons, had originally been diagnosed as suffering
from depression. Nurses became increasingly concerned as the mother's depression
worsened and the baby reacted badly to tests. Two months after the birth,
doctors carried out a brain scan on the mother and found the degenerative
changes that are associated with the presence of variant Creutzfeldt Jacob
Disease (vCJD), or human BSE.
- Further tests confirmed the presence of the abnormal
prions, the agent found in cattle with BSE. If it is confirmed that the
baby has CJD, it will confirm what scientists have long feared?that the
disease can be passed from mother to child. Initial tests on the child
have found lesions and plaques similar to those found in adults with vCJD.
- Already 51 people in Britain have died as a result of
contracting vCJD through eating contaminated meat. More than a dozen people
still living are exhibiting symptoms of the disease. If a mother can pass
the disease on to her baby, these figures could rise dramatically. Not
only does the threat of the disease hang over people who ate beef in the
1980s and early 90s, but it may have grave implications for future generations.
- The young mother's illness has devastated her family.
The woman's mother remarked, "We are just an ordinary family, but
we're being destroyed by a man-made disease that should never have happened.
She was always laughing, telling jokes and making friends wherever she
went. She was out most weekends, dancing or meeting people."
- Unlike many diagnosed late with the disease, the young
mother knew she had vCJD early on. "She had twice told me she knows
she has got mad cow disease and that she is going to die," her mother
- While not commenting on this particular case, vCJD expert
Professor John Collinge said, "It was something that was always on
the cards. Sheep scrapie, a similar prion disease, passes from ewes to
their lambs. There is good evidence that in cattle about one in ten infected
animals transmit the disease to a calf."
- Another disturbing aspect of the case is that the medical
instruments used during the woman's delivery have been used on a further
seven occasions, according to West Midlands Director of Health Dr. Rod
Griffith. The prion agent can survive the sterilisation process. Griffith
told BBC radio, "We know who the patients are, but no, we haven't
got in touch with them because ethically it's not clear whether that's
the right thing to do." He said any risk of contamination was "vanishingly
- This was opposed by the German vCJD expert Roland Heynkes.
"Is it really OK not to tell them, that they can live without this
fear?" he asked. "But perhaps there may be many more patients
with developing CJD who have been contaminated with surgical instruments.
Contaminated surgical instruments may not be a problem for many British
women, because they are already infected directly from cattle."
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