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Tuesday 6th December 2016
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Coroners won't test for vCJD

19th August 2009

Coroners are refusing to test for an infection which causes vCJD saying that such tests could undermine their neutrality.

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The government has indicated such a move could help protect the public and scientists say such checks during postmortem examinations could help find out how many people in the population have the infection without knowing it.

In turn, this could help decide whether current measures to protect blood transfusions are sufficient.

Cases of vCJD arose in the 1980s as a result of people eating beef from cattle infected with BSE and so far 164 people have died from it.

But it remains unknown how many people could be carrying vCJD without showing symptoms.

The Spongiform Encepalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), which advises ministers, believes it is important to establish this and that a reliable way of establishing this was to ask coroners to test the brain and spleen of young people during autopsies.

SEAC member Professor John Collinge said systematic testing was needed to establish how many more people were likely to get the disease and that he had hoped coroner’s would help.

But the Coroners' Society of England and Wales has refused to comment though it has told officials that if they were to request consent from relatives to carry out research it would compromise their neutrality and breach the trust they have built up with the public.

However, the Department of Health plans a pilot scheme later this year to try out a system that it hoped would address many of the coroners' concerns.

 

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