Mad cow disease in California has made the whole nation anxious. But Don’t be scared. Prototype of most accurate blood test for mad cow disease is ready
Though the mad cow disease can go airborne scientists in the United States feel that there is no need to worry and get locked at home.
On the other hand their counterparts in Britain––where the disease wreaked havoc in 1990s–– have made a prototype of the most accurate blood test yet for the human form of mad cow disease, and say their work could transform diagnosis and screening of the fatal brain disorder.
Scientists said that in an early-stage trial, the prototype, which is 100,000 times more sensitive than previous methods, was able to detect tiny amounts of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD)-causing particles, known as prions, in human blood.
The prions responsible for mad cow disease and other neurological ailments can float on the breeze and infect those who inhale.
According Graham Jackson, who led the study at the Medical Research Council’s Prion Unit at University College London, although further larger studies are needed to confirm its effectiveness, this test is the best hope yet of a successful early diagnostic test for the disease.
He said it could in future allow doctors to screen whole populations for vCJD infection, assess how many people are silent carriers and prevent onward transmission of the disease.
Variant CJD first emerged in the mid-1990s and is the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which is known as mad cow disease.
The disease, which affects the brain, is thought to have passed from cattle to human being through infected food. It causes personality change, loss of body function, and eventually death.
World Health Organization data, which only go up to 2002, show that from October 1996 to November 2002, 129 cases of vCJD had been reported in Britain, six in France and one each in Canada, Ireland, Italy and the United States.
Experts say the disease affects about one person in every million per year worldwide, but prions, the infectious proteins which cause vCJD, can inhabit a person’s body for up to 50 years before presenting symptoms.
During this time, a vCJD carrier could pass it on to others, possibly through a blood transfusion or through medical instruments, since prions can easily attach onto metal surfaces.
Still there is no need to be anxious, because prions don’t usually exist in an aerosolized form, and therefore one is extremely unlikely to wander into a cloud of deadly peril. Only a few people have to worry about this: slaughterhouse workers and prion researchers.
Slaughterhouse workers who remove brains or spinal chords with bone saws may create airborne prions.
But John Collinge, director of University College London’s Prion Unit, says one of the reasons that vCJD is such a dreaded disease is the lack of knowledge of who is and who is not a carrier of this infection.