BSE may be worse than thought

People infected with vCJD (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob), the human form of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), may carry the disease for up to 50 years before symptoms develop a study published in the Lancet has revealed. A team of researchers at the University College London studied Papua New Guineans with a related disease called kuru (a prion disease related to cannibalism) in order to work out how long BSE may lurk in the body before it develops into vCJD. They found that genetic differences between people infected could affect the amount of time it took for the disease to develop. Professor John Collinge, who led the study, said “Recent estimates of the size of the vCJD epidemic based on uniform genetic susceptibility could be substantial underestimations”. An editorial in the Lancet stated: “Any belief that vCJD incidence has peaked and that we are now through the worst of this sinister disease must now be treated with extreme scepticism”.                                     

Collinge J, Whitfield J, McKintosh E, Beck J, Mead S, Thomas DJ and Alpers MP. 2006. Kuru in the 21st century—an acquired human prion disease with very long incubation periods. The Lancet. 367, 2068-2074.