Saskatchewan Man Dies
From vCJD/Mad Cow

But Canada's Food Supply Is Safe, Officials Insist
By Allison Lawlor Globe and Mail Update

Health officials tried to reassure the public Thursday that Canada's food supply is safe after a Saskatchewan man died in hospital in the first confirmed case in Canada of the new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of mad-cow disease.
"There is no evidence that mad-cow disease has entered the Canadian food supply and therefore we can reassure the Canadian public that the person did not contract the disease in Canada," Antonio Giulivi of Health Canada told a Saskatoon news conference Thursday.

Health officials said the man, whom they did not identify but said was under the age of 50, contracted the disease while in Britain. He lived for several years in Britain during the 1980s and 1990s during the peak of the mad cow disease outbreak.

The man, who was not identified in order to protect his family's privacy, regularly consumed processed meat products during that time, health officials said.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as BSE, is believed to cause new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans if meat from infected animals is eaten. More than 100 people in Europe have died since 1995 from eating contaminated meat.

Health officials did not say when the Canadian man died at St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon but said he was first reported to Health Canada as a possible case of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in April.

After a series of tests, including a confirmation by a British specialist, the diagnosis of vCJD was confirmed to Saskatchewan Health on Aug. 6, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Ross Findlater said.

"There is no risk to the general public from this case," Dr. Findlater said. Health officials said they do not suspect there are any other cases of the disease in Canada at this time.

"This is the only one," Dr. Giulivi said.

Health officials have contacted about 70 other former patients from St. Paul's Hospital to tell them there is a remote chance some medical equipment used on them may have been exposed to the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Some time before the man died, he had an endoscopic examination, Stephen Whitehead, deputy medical health officer with Regional Health Authority No. 6, said on Thursday. The same equipment was then used on other patients.

As a result of that medical procedure there is an "extremely minute possibility of risk" that there could have been some contamination of the endoscope, Dr. Whitehead said.

The endoscope went through a normal thorough disinfection and cleaning after each procedure, he said, but added that still there remains a very low risk of contamination of that instrument.

An endoscope is a fibre-optic hose-like device covered with rubber that is placed down a person's throat for internal examinations. Endoscopes can also be used for rectal examinations.

Dr. Whitehead said health officials have been contacting those people over the past 24 hours to ensure they understand the "minute" risk they face.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease kills brain cells, creating gaps in tissue and giving the brain a sponge-like appearance. Victims first start to show memory loss, mood swings and lack of co-ordination. Then comes shakiness and dementia. Eventually, the disease leaves its victims paralyzed and mute.

There are four known forms: three are known as familial or classical and are believed to be genetic, or inherited.

The fourth form is the human counterpart to mad-cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. It is thought that the disease is transmitted to cattle when they eat fodder made with the ground parts of infected animals.

The U.S. Agriculture Department said Thursday it was awaiting further details from the Canadian government on the case.

Alisa Harrison, a USDA spokeswoman, told Reuters that the department was waiting for official details from Canada before taking "appropriate action" if necessary.

USDA officials were alerted of the Canadian case earlier on Thursday. No case of BSE has ever been identified in the United States.

Last April, U.S. health officials reported the first suspected case of vCJD in the United States in a 22-year-old British woman living in Florida. They said she most likely contracted the disease while living in Britain.

Symptoms: Confusion, mood swings, memory loss, loss of motor skills and coma.
Prions, mutated forms of naturally occurring cellular proteins.
The disease attacks the victim making microscopic holes in the brain.
Classic Creutzfeldt-Jakob is a naturally occurring illness that affects roughly 30 people in Canada a year. The Saskatoon case is the first in Canada of the variant form linked to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which causes mad cow disease.
Transmission of variant form: It's thought people became infected from eating cheap cuts of meat that might have contained pieces of spinal cord from animals afflicted with BSE. There are also fears it could also be spread from medical instruments used in operations.
A post-mortem examination of brain tissue reveals the disease.
More than 100 in Britain and around the world are confirmed or suspected.

With reports from Canadian Press and Reuters News Agency


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