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From: Terry S. Singeltary Sr. (
Subject: Re: Japan Confirms Human Mad Cow Disease Case
Date: February 6, 2005 at 9:54 am PST

In Reply to: Japan Confirms Human Mad Cow Disease Case posted by TSS on February 4, 2005 at 6:33 am:

Ministry acts quickly on vCJD investigation

Yomiuri Shimbun

On Friday, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry took immediate action to determine whether Japan's first case of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) has resulted in secondary infections.

VCJD can be passed from person-to-person through blood transfusions or using the same surgical equipment in operations among patients.

The Japanese Red Cross began searching its database Friday to determine whether a man who died in his 50s in December from vCJD had donated blood.

However, the database records only date back to April 1995, so the organization has started investigating written records dated prior to that year on the ministry's request.

The ministry said Friday no record of the man undergoing surgical procedures at any medical institutions in the country had been found, but it could not confirm that.

In its announcement Friday, the ministry's CJD Surveillance Committee said it suspected the man was infected with the disease while he was in Britain for a month in 1989, the year the British government ordered meat processors to remove risky parts of cattle carcasses, among other measures against mad cow disease.

The man visited a doctor complaining of stress and other symptoms in 2001, but the doctor dismissed his concerns after examining brain scans, even though he was unable diagnose the man's illness. It was only after his death that detailed examinations on his brain tissue could be performed to confirm that he had suffered from vCJD, the committee said.

The committee said it had briefly suspected the man to have contracted vCJD in Japan, as the first cow in the country with mad cow disease was found in September 2001.

But the committee pointed out that usually victims start showing symptoms of vCJD about 10 years after contracting the disease, adding that it was therefore more likely that the man was infected with vCJD in 1989 in Britain, the committee said.

The committee also pointed out that details about the man's stay in Britain, including which areas he visited or whether he ate beef that contained risky parts of cattle, were insufficient.

Masahito Yamada, chairman of the surveillance committee, said, "Most of the information we have is based on what the man's doctor heard from the patient's family members."


Most BSE cases in Britain

The first case of vCJD was reported in Britain in 1996, and the total number of cases has since reached 164, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The ministry said most of the cases have been reported in Britain and other countries in Europe. Every person who contracted the disease outside Europe had traveled to Britain, the ministry added.

As the disease is a variant of bovine spongiform encephalopathy a person is believed to contract vCJD through eating beef from a cow infected with BSE.

The first cow found to be infected with BSE was discovered in Britain in 1986. Twenty-four countries have reported at least one animal that has been infected with the disease, but 97 percent of all infected cattle were found in Britain, according to the ministry.


Consumers' response a concern

As the first case of vCJD to be found in Japan, the man's death might cause Japanese consumers to become more skeptical of imported beef, which could complicate negotiations concerning reopening Japan's market to U.S. beef imports, a food safety expert said Friday.

"Japanese beef is safe enough. We don't have to worry about changing our existing measures against BSE," said Shinichi Shinagawa, head of the Prion Disease Research Center at the National Institute of Animal Health.

Shinagawa pointed out, however, that the psychological impact on consumers would have unpredictable effects, especially on the ongoing negotiations between the United States and Japan over a ban on U.S. beef that was enacted in late 2003.

"Opinions vary widely, even among experts on inspection requirements for each animal to be exported to Japan. This latest case will certainly affect that debate," Shinagawa said, anticipating that the first death from vCJD in the country would increase demands to maintain restrictions that anger the United States, which says they are unnecesarry.

As to the case's impact on bilateral beef talks, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Friday: "Of course we (the government) must act responsibly. The matter will be reflected in our considerations (concerning the negotiations)."


Koizumi calls for in-depth study

Reacting to the first vCJD case in the country, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he hoped government experts, through thorough investigations, would be able to find out how the patient was infected.

"Experts must examine the case in full and determine how it happened and what the cause was," he told reporters.

In a separate address, Hosoda stressed the need to ensure that the public does not overreact to the finding. "This disease is not infectious. We'll be releasing accurate data as we pursue further research," he said.


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