More mad-cow deaths may come

9th April 2008, Comments 0 comments

While Spain may expect more deaths to come, they need not fear that the fatal disease will lead to an epidemic.

9 April 2008

MADRID - Health authorities and medical specialists on Tuesday warned that Spain should expect more deaths from the human form of mad-cow disease over the coming years, but rejected fears that the incurable, degenerative illness will become an epidemic.

Their comments came a day after the health department of Castilla y Leon disclosed that two people had died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) since December, bringing to three the total number of victims in Spain since a variant of the illness was first linked to consumption of beef from cows infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the late 1990s.

"Within the scientific community, these deaths were expected," José Miguel Laínez, the head of the neurology department at Valencia's University Hospital, noted on Tuesday.

Health officials said the two people were a 50-year-old woman, who died on 28 December, and a 41-year-old man, who died on 7 February following a rapid deterioration in their mental health. The first victim in Spain was a 26-year-old woman who died in Madrid in July 2005.

Laínez said he expects a further 10 or 12 deaths in Spain before 2010, a decade after the European Union established strict controls on beef. The variant of CJD caused by mad-cow disease is believed to have an incubation period of between five and 10 years.

"It can only be expected that there will be more cases until 2010. By that year the incidence of the disease will have peaked," José Manuel Sánchez Vizcaíno, a professor of infectious diseases at Madrid's Complutense University, explained.

However, Vizcaíno and other experts ruled out the possibility of an epidemic emerging among people who ate contaminated beef prior to the enforcement of the restrictions, noting that the incidence of infection with CJD is "very low".

"We can't rule out additional cases, but it can't be called an epidemic. France and Portugal, countries with culinary habits very similar to our own, have detected two cases and 25 cases respectively," Juan José Badiola, the head of the Centre for the Investigation of Prionic Diseases at the University of Zaragoza, noted.

Researchers have linked mad-cow disease to the use of the ground-up remains of sheep and other animals as cattle feed. In Spain, 719 cows have been found with BSE since 2001, when closer monitoring of cattle began and the sale of meat taken from the most infectious parts of the animal was banned.

Health authorities say those checks have ensured that all the beef that has made it to Spanish dinner tables since then is perfectly safe. "We're experiencing the consequences of infections that occurred years ago," acting Health Minister Bernat Soria told reporters yesterday. "Today there is no food or health problem... the controls work."

Nonetheless, in the wake of the disclosure of the two deaths from CJD this week, cattle farmers and butchers are fearful of a decline in demand for beef.

[El Pais / A. E. / Carmen Moran / Expatica]

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