Spain warns of more deaths from mad cow disease

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Spanish health authorities say more people could die from the human variant of mad cow disease as the illness has a incubation period of 10 years.

29 August 2008

MADRID -- Health authorities acknowledged Thursday that more people in Spain could die from the human variant of mad cow disease in 2008 or the following year, but they insisted consumers should not be worried about eating beef.

The admission by Health Ministry Secretary General José Martínez Olmos came as doctors continued to investigate whether a woman who died in the northern province of León last week may have been suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), the human form of mad cow disease (BSE).

If confirmed, her death would be the fourth from CJD on record in Spain and the first anywhere in the world in which two members of the same family have died from the disease. Her son passed away earlier this year from CJD.

The illness, which has been linked with the consumption of beef from infected cows during an epidemic in the 1990s, has an incubation period of 10 years. Deaths are therefore likely to occur until 2010, a decade after the European Union established tight controls on beef.

"We cannot rule out the appearance of new cases of mad cow disease in Spain," Olmos said. "But it is important to note that they are not connected with eating beef on sale today."

CJD causes the brain to become filled with holes, like a sponge, leading initially to memory loss, confusion, behavioural changes and hallucinations. The onset of the first symptoms until death takes a few months.

[El Pais / Angeles Espinosa / Expatica]

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