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Dairy farm workers most at risk

CJD - The Facts

Dairy farm workers are more likely to suffer from Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease - the human equivalent of mad cow disease - than people in other occupations, according to research published on Friday.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, like Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy - BSE - is a poorly understood condition which attacks the brain, leaving it full of holes, like a bath sponge. Victims display symptoms of dementia, becoming unsteady, confused and losing their memory. Death normally occurs about six months after the onset of the disease.

  • Victims decline rapidly to a state where they cannot walk, talk or look after themselves, as their brain degenerates into a sponge-like state. There is no cure.

  • Scientists think CJD is transmitted via an infectious protein called a prion, but the precise mechanism behind the disease is unknown.

  • CJD can lie dormant for 30 years before symptoms show, but human victims cannot infect one another.

    Latest CJD strain linked to eating beef

  • Five different strains of CJD have been identified, including a very rare one which is inherited, and one contracted by victims treated with infected extracts from human pituitary glands to boost growth or aid fertility.

  • In March 1996, scientists announced the identification of the latest strain, believed to be linked to BSE and contracted by eating contaminated beef.

  • Cases of new variant or nv CJD were found to be strikingly different. Victims had an average age of 27.5 whereas previously sufferers were over 63, they had unusual initial symptoms of depression and anxiety, and they had the disease for longer than normal _ a year or more _ before dying.

  • Because of the disease's incubation period it was thought the victims were probably infected before 1989, when the offal controls came into force.

  • The link between BSE and nvCJD still has not been proved conclusively, but scientists believe tests due to finish soon could provide the first definite evidence.

  • So far 21 people have died from nvCJD.

  • The number of deaths from all variants of CJD has risen from 28 in 1985 to 58 last year and 17 so far this year.

  • There is still no consensus on whether there is likely to be a CJD epidemic. Some have warned of an epidemic on the scale of Aids and HIV, with up to 500,000 new victims early in the next century. Others suggest that the number of cases will remain very small.

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