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People may be unaware of vCJD infection.

AN unusual case of variant CJD, the human form of "mad cow disease", has resurrected fears that some people might still be infected and yet to develop symptoms.

The genetic make-up of a 30-year-old man who died from vCJD suggests some cases of infection might have very long incubation periods, possibly spanning decades.

If this is true there could be an unknown number of infected people alive today who are unaware they have the condition. They may have acquired the disease from eating beef contaminated with the cattle disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) as young children.

Whether or not they develop the terrible symptoms of vCJD and die from the condition would depend on how long it takes to develop.

Many infected individuals could die from other causes before reaching the end of the incubation period, experts believe.

Fears of a major epidemic claiming thousands of lives surfaced at the height of the "mad cow disease" scare in the 1990s.

The disaster never materialised, and since 1994 only around 200 cases of vCJD have been confirmed worldwide.

In the UK the total number of definite and probable cases of vCJD is 170, including four suspected victims who are still alive.

To date, every person confirmed as having vCJD has had a particular "homozygous" form of the human prion protein gene known as MM.

Rogue prion proteins are believed to be the infective agents behind the disease.

The same gene can also take the form VV or MV.

The newly identified victim, who died in January after suffering symptoms of personality change, memory loss, unsteadiness and visual hallucinations, had the "heterozygous" MV form.
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Dec 18, 2009
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