The Scottish Mail on Sunday
‘30,000 may have human form of mad cow disease’
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.’