The Scottish Mail on Sunday

‘30,000 may have hu­man form of mad cow dis­ease’

- By Pa­tri­cia Kane Health · United Kingdom · Scotland · Huntly · Aberdeenshire · Iceland · Austria · James · Medical Research Council · London · Wolfson College, Cambridge · Belgium · United Kingdom Department of Health · University College London · Hamilton · Department of Health and Social Care · John Collinge

AROUND 30,000 peo­ple across the UK – in­clud­ing up to 3,000 in Scot­land – are un­know­ingly in­fected with the hu­man form of mad cow dis­ease, warns Bri­tain’s lead­ing ex­pert on the deadly con­di­tion.

Pro­fes­sor John Collinge es­ti­mates one in ev­ery 2,000 Bri­tons is in­cu­bat­ing the dis­ease after eat­ing con­tam­i­nated beef years ago or hav­ing blood trans­fu­sions.

His warn­ing comes as a case of bovine spongi­form en­cephalopa­thy (BSE) was con­firmed last week on a farm near Huntly, Aberdeen­shire – the first in Scot­land in a decade.

The au­thor­i­ties stress there is no threat to hu­man health – as the cow did not en­ter the food chain – but Pro­fes­sor Collinge be­lieves thou­sands are at risk be­cause of ex­po­sure to BSE in pre­vi­ous decades. BSE is linked to the de­vel­op­ment in hu­mans of a de­gen­er­a­tive brain con­di­tion, vari­ant Creutzfeld­t– Jakob dis­ease (vCJD).

Pro­fes­sor Collinge, di­rec­tor of the Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil Prion Unit at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don, said: ‘Nearly all the pop­u­la­tion in the 1980s and 1990s were ex­posed to BSE. A pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion will be in­cu­bat­ing vCJD and no pre­cau­tions can be taken against those in­di­vid­u­als be­cause we don’t know who they are.’ The dis­ease has claimed 229 lives since it was first iden­ti­fied in hu­mans 20 years ago, with 178 vic­tims in the UK. But Pro­fes­sor Collinge be­lieves those who died were the most ge­net­i­cally sus­cep­ti­ble to the dis­ease. He fears a ‘sec­ond wave’ is likely, say­ing: ‘Be­cause the num­ber of vCJD cases is go­ing down in Bri­tain, there isn’t per­ceived to be a ma­jor prob­lem, de­spite the fact there are per­haps 30,000 car­ri­ers.

‘This num­ber does not come from just beef con­sump­tion but the po­ten­tial spread of in­fec­tion via blood trans­fu­sions.’

Pro­fes­sor Collinge dis­cusses his con­cerns in a new doc­u­men­tary, Cows, Cash & Cover Ups: In­ves­ti­gat­ing Vari­ant CJD, which is due for re­lease next month. Glas­gow­based film­maker Joseph Mclean of Partick­u­lar Films, which pro­duced the film, said: ‘The dis­ease has never gone away, which is why the Aberdeen­shire case isn’t a big sur­prise. Fall­ing BSE num­bers have been con­vinc­ing some that con­trol mea­sures are no longer nec­es­sary.

‘We hope this film ex­poses how sys­tem­atic breaches have left the pub­lic vul­ner­a­ble and yet no one is held ac­count­able.’

Sev­eral rel­a­tives of vic­tims ap­pear in the film, in­clud­ing Thomas Good­win, whose son Grant died in 2009 at the age of 30.

Mr Good­win, of Hamil­ton, La­nark­shire, said: ‘The fam­i­lies have been treated ap­pallingly. We’ve never had proper an­swers.’

Last night, a spokesman for the Depart­ment of Health said: ‘The Gov­ern­ment has a long-stand­ing range of mea­sures in place to pro­tect health and the blood sup­ply, and con­tin­ues to mon­i­tor all cases of vCJD care­fully.’

 ??  ?? EX­PO­SURE FEARS: Pro­fes­sor John Collinge
EX­PO­SURE FEARS: Pro­fes­sor John Collinge

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