As I noted last year, although initial predictions suggested that tens of thousands of people would die from variant Cretuzfeldt-Jakob disease (Mad Cow Disease), so far the number of new cases and deaths have been extremely small. Now, a new study suggests that in the worst case scenario only a few thousand people will contract the disease — not the 100,000 or so predicted by other researchers.
A lot depends on how existing numbers are interpreted. So far, very few people have been diagnosed with vCJD. From 1995 to 1999, for example, there were only 61 cases of the disease diagnosed in Great Britain, with 55 deaths. Altogether, only about 100 people have died from the disease.
Still, researchers at the Imperial College predict that as many as 100,000 people could die from the disease. This is predicated on the view that large numbers of people were exposed to Mad Cow-infected beef, but simply have yet to show any symptoms of the disease. Researchers published this month in Science offers an alternative view — that few people have contracted the disease because few people actually consumed Mad Cow-infected beef.
In their study, the researchers conclude that even if 12 million people in Great Britain were exposed to the disease, the incubation period in most cases would be far longer than current human life spans. They estimate that the total number of vCJD cases will be somewhere between a few hundred and several thousand.
“Even in the worst case scenario, there are never likely to be more than 100 cases of vCJD pre year,” researcher Huillard d’Aignaux told Reuters.
UK study predicts fewer human ‘Mad Cow’ cases. John Griffiths, Reuters, October 25, 2001.
vCJD ‘epidemic’ might be waning. Pallab Ghosh, The BBC, October 26, 2001.
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