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Creutzfeldt-Jakob Risk Not Just From 'Mad Cows'

Contaminated surgical instruments may have caused U.S. cases

Most people who have heard about Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) probably make the connection to mad cow disease in Europe. Health experts believe that a variant form of CJD in people can be traced to eating meat from infected cattle.

But CJD also occurs spontaneously. While this sporadic form occurs rarely, at a rate of 1 per million each year, it affects far more people than the variant form linked to cows. Either type of CJD can be transmitted to other people through blood transfusions or through contaminated surgical instruments. Ananova reports that such a scenario may have occurred in Denver, where at least six patients may have been exposed to the classical form of CJD through surgical instruments.

Controlling the spread of CJD presents a difficult problem. The disease isn't caused by a microorganism but by a mutant protein known as a prion, which can be more difficult to destroy than bacteria, viruses or fungi. A second Ananova story says that the disease may take 30 years to develop, at least in the case of the variant form of CJD. That would complicate efforts to track an outbreak caused, for instance, by blood donations from an affected person.

Both forms of CJD are equally devastating. A feature from the Irish Times describes the experiences of one family touched by a case of the classical form of the disease.

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