Public Release: 

New variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: The epidemic that never was

BMJ

The link between the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prion and new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is open to question, argues George Venters, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, in this week's BMJ.

He applied standard criteria - used to establish links between cause and disease - to the case for the BSE prion being the cause of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

He found no direct evidence that this prion was infectious to humans. Other inconsistencies, including the small rate of growth in the number of cases and suspect or weak evidence directed at confirming the hypothesis rather than testing it, also suggest that the variant is not caused by the prion and is not new, he explains.

Despite improved detection and reporting of all prion encephalopathies after the establishment of the UK Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease Surveillance Unit in 1990, this does not seem to have been adequately considered as an explanation for the appearance of what was claimed to be a new disease, he adds.

"I believe that the evidence now available casts serious doubts on the case for a causal link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy and "new" variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease," he writes. "The medical profession should, at least, be publicly debating this as an issue. The purpose of this paper is to start that process."

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New variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: the epidemic that never was BMJ Volume 323, pp 858-61

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