Mad Cow Concern
Shifts To Blood Supply
By June Preston

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A British scientist whose research linked mad cow disease to a deadly strain of a brain-wasting disease in humans, said Wednesday he was concerned about a new outbreak through Britain's blood supply, Microbiologist John Pattison, whose work led researchers to conclude a variant strain of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans was tied to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle, said he feared human-to-human spread of the CJD variant through blood transfusions. Pattison presented his work to scientists and researchers from about 70 countries at an international conference on emerging infectious diseases in Atlanta. ``We continue to use whole blood products in the U.K,,'' he said. ``There is no thought being given to importing blood, because there is a huge counterbalance to be considered involving other diseases that would be far worse than the danger of CJD.'' It is not impossible CJD could be transmitted through the blood supply because it has a long incubation period and consumption of the affected cattle did not stop until 1996, he said. But he said other countries should not be concerned about their blood supplies. ``Other countries haven't had BSE, so it is unlikely that they would have the new variant of CJD,'' he said. The first case of BSE was confirmed in Britain in 1986, a result of contaminated feed. Since then, 170,000 cattle have died of the disease, according to Pattison's report. ``In 1986, we recommended to the British government that there should be no meat or bone meal in the feed,'' Pattison said. ``But even after that it seemed to us we had a problem because the feed is a bit leaky, as it were. Thirty-six-thousand of those cases were found after the feed recommendation was made.'' He said the likely culprits in the continued BSE spread were family farmers who gave their cattle feed that was intended for poultry and pigs. BSE cases among cattle have dropped dramatically since meat products were banned from all feed, Pattison said, but it has not been eliminated. ``The BSE epidemic is under control,'' he said, ``However, there are still going to be about 1,500 to 2,000 cases in the UK this year.'' Pattison chairs Britain's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee. His recommendations led to the British government's controversial banning of beef on the bone in December. Pattison said from the beginning, scientists feared BSE would spread to other species. ``Quite frankly, we were concerned about the packs of hounds that we keep in kennels because, of course, as part of their natural diet they are often given fallen stock to eat raw and untreated,'' he said. ``But in fact, the dogs have been singularly unaffected by the tainted meat.'' Instead, he said, the first animals diagnosed with a form of BSE were domestic cats in 1990. Since that time it has also been found in zoo felines, including cheetahs, pumas, ocelots and tigers. The first case of the CJD variant in humans was confirmed in a teen-ager who died in October 1995. Later that month a second teen died of the disease. and in January 1996 it was diagnosed in two more teens and three 29-year-olds who died, Pattison said. In February 1996, five people under age 30 and a 41-year-old became victims of the disease and in March of that year another 10 cases were reported, he said. All of the cases were in Britain. Pattison, who will be formally knighted next week by Queen Elizabeth for his research, said scientists continue to be concerned about the new variant of CJD. ``You can't prove some disaster isn't in the offing.''

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