Medical examiners and coroners in the UK are being pushed to check for the infection which causes BSE or mad cow disease when they do autopsies.
“There could be a significant, undetected problem that could be a much larger than we know — and won’t unless we look,” said Prof. John Collinge, who heads the Department of Neurodegenerative Disease at London’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.
The testing of brain tissue permits the most definitive diagnosis of all forms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease including the variant causing mad cow, Collinge told the BBC earlier this year.
The professor, a leading international authority on Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and the human variant, is not alone in calling for the post-mortem testing as the best method to identify the presence and spread of the disease.
When the first confirmed case in the U.S. of mad cow was reported in 2003 — a Canadian dairy cow imported into Washington State — the Centers for Disease Control wasted little time urging physicians to be alert to the disease and “to arrange for brain autopsies” in all cases of suspected CJD or the quicker killer variant which comes from livestock.
The Daily Mail in London recently quoted a mother whose son died from BSE.
‘This is a public health issue. I, as a mum, have lost a child, a very dear, loved child, through an avoidable disease, “Christine Lord told the newspaper.
“The coroners, by actually blocking this, are actually not protecting public health,” she added.
However, the brain autopsy remains only a suggestion and is almost unheard of in the U.S., according to two pathologists I questioned today.
It’s almost impossible to find agreement among the feds on the best methods of identification and prevention of mad cow.
Even when the U.S. government takes appropriate action to limit the possible spread of BSE, it often ends up back peddling like mad to avoid actually doing anything meaningful.
For example, it’s well known that the exposure to the disease can come from healthy livestock eating feed made from sick, slaughtered animals.
The FDA established what it called “enhanced BSE-related feed ban” to control this known pathway for mad cow. After significant handwringing by agribusiness and political pressure by lobbyists for the meat packers the new restrictions were to go into effect in April.
Don’t cheer yet. Our food protectors moved implementation of the safeguard six months to
I can’t tell you the implications of this delay, but an FDA health officer involved in food safety, called it typical.
“This is nothing new. Our government is only going to pay lip service to BSE until the bodies — human bodies — begin stacking up,” the officer said.
“Things are even worse at USDA. Everything involving imported livestock goes through a political review before anything is done,” the officer told me last month.
While our livestock industry will use all the clout it can muster to keep animals quickly flowing across our borders, the public health implications cannot be ignored.
Studies indicated that the BSE agent has been transmitted to humans via consumption of BSE-contaminated livestock. CDC says the risk to humans is low but more than 300 cases have been diagnosed in 13 other countries where people ate or were otherwise exposed to the diseased meat.
What makes BSE a even more significant health threat is that FDA and CDC both have reported that the infectious agent in the tainted meat is not eliminated by normal cooking temperatures, even those used for pasteurization and sterilization.
The health investigatory agency stresses that CJD — which is normally found in about one case per million population — is not related to mad cow disease, which is a variant of the disease.
Here is a link to CDC’s website on BSE.
Here is the link to the whole Daily Mail story.