Fears Of New Mad Cow Disease Strain Raised

A new version of the human form of mad cow disease could cause a second wave of deaths across Britain, experts have warned.

Professor Chris Higgins highlighted a case currently being investigated by scientists where a patient is dying from a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), who appears to have a different gene type from previous British victims.

Prof Higgins, who chairs the Government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, said if confirmed up to this new type could affect 350 people.

Scientists say the genes they have inherited from their mother and father - either M or a V - determine a person's vulnerability to vCJD.

During the first wave of vCJD – which was caused by eating infected beef products in the 1980s and early 1990s - saw 164 deaths, peaking at 28 in 2000.

British victims of the disease have only possessed the gene MM, which is about 42% of the population. They are thought to be more susceptible than those with one of each - the MVs - who are thought to be more resistant, and comprise 47% of Britons.

Speaking to BBC2s Newsnight, Prof Higgins said: "This case has not yet been confirmed, but assuming it is, we would estimate that the number of MV cases at a maximum would be about 300 to 350.

"That, I have to emphasise, is a maximum estimate, because all the studies in animals suggest that MV gene types are likely to be far less infective than the MM gene type where we have seen the cases up to now. So it is probably between 50 and maybe 350 new cases."


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