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vCJD may develop over 50 years

30th June 2006

Researchers say it could take 50 years for vCJD, the human form of mad cow disease (BSE), to develop.

A disease linked to cannibalism has given clues about how BSE could lurk in the human body before it develops into vCJD, say researchers at University College London.

The researchers studied Papua New Guineans with a related condition - kuru disease, which is contracted through cannibalism. In The Lancet, the team said people with a certain genetic make-up risked long-term vCJD incubation.

Exposure to BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in the UK has been widespread, although just 160 vCJD (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob) patients have been identified, leading scientists to investigate why more people have not been affected so far.

And some of the answers could be found in looking at the Kuru disease which reached epidemic proportions in some Papua New Guinea communities early in the 20th Century. Eating dead relatives as a mark of respect and mourning was ritual practice until it was banned in the 1950s.

Although it was not possible to know the exact date the patients contracted kuru, the possible incubation periods ranged from 34 to 56 years.

These links mean a question mark still remains over how many people will be affected by vCJD.

 

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