Research published in the British Medical Journal offers the first direct estimate of the extent of vCJD in Great Britain.
Researchers examined 8,318 appendix and tonsil samples removed from patients between 1995 and 1999. Seventy percent of the samples came from individuals aged 20 to 29 — the group believed to be most vulnerable to vCJD.
The results? Only one person’s appendix showed signs of the vCJD prion. This would translate to an infection rate of 120 cases per one million people.
Peter Smith, chairman of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, told Reuters,
It [the results] offers some limited reassurance, the findings could have been a lot worse than this.
. . .
This is the first time that anybody has been able to get any sort of handle on the level of exposure. But it is a small sample and what is needed now is larger-scale studies.
Efforts to create such larger-scale studies are in the works. This particular study will continue until a total of 15,000 tissue samples are checked. The British Department of Health plans to create a tonsil archive to collect tens of thousands of tonsil samples for analysis (tonsils are believed to be more likely to accumulate the deviant prions than is the appendix).
But certainly a rate in the 120 cases per million population rate fits with the relatively small number of vCJD cases documented so far.
First direct estimate of hidden vCJD cases. NewScientist.Com, September 19, 2002.
British ‘Mad Cow’ Toll May Be Lower than Feared. Richard Woodman, Reuters, September 19, 2002.