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Looking at Links to Brain-Wasting Disease

Studies examine blood transfusions and human version of mad cow disease

FRIDAY, Feb. 6, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The link between blood transfusions and transmission of the human version of mad cow disease is examined in two studies in this week's issue of The Lancet.

The studies highlight the public health implications of blood transfusion as a possible route for infection by the prion protein that causes variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).

The first study examines the case of a British man who died of vCJD in December 2003. The man developed symptoms of the disease 6.5 years after receiving a transfusion of red cells donated by a donor 3.5 years before the donor developed symptoms of vCJD.

"Our findings raise the possibility that this infection was transfusion-transmitted. Infection in the recipient could have been due to past dietary exposure to the BSE agent. However, the age of the patient was well beyond that of most vCJD cases, and the chance of observing a case of vCJD in a recipient in the absence of transfusion transmitted infection is about one in 15,000 to one in 30,000," researcher Robert Will, of the National CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh, Scotland, says in a prepared statement.

The second study compares the degree of tissue infectivity among macaque monkeys that were given, orally or intravenously, tissue containing the BSE agent. The study found the degree of organ infection in the macaques was similar, regardless of the route of entry.

The finding that intravenous transmission of BSE is highly effective means that intravenous transmission should be regarded as a likely route of transmission for vCJD patients who had received a blood transfusion, the study authors say.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, Feb. 5, 2004
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