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BSE versus Creutzveld-Jacobs-syndrome

Joao Vasconcelos Costa jcosta at pen.gulbenkian.pt
Fri Mar 29 11:14:49 EST 1996

bhjelle at unm.edu wrote:
> All this talk about "hysteria" and "disproportionate
> reactions" and "one-in-a-million" threats has a very
> familiar ring. How many of those who are making these
> comments remember the transfusion-associated AIDS debacle
> of the early 1980s? There are some remarkable parallels
> to the TAA situation in 1983. A "rare" disease with long
> latency, with some uncertainty about its potential for
> transmission via the proposed route. No way to test for
> it directly. One, a few, a dozen extremely ill patients.
> For TAA, the toll quickly rose to tens of thousands.
> Some blood banks later discovered that some 1 in 100
> units were contaminated during the peak years.
> There are some hard policy decisions that sometimes
> must be made with inadequate data. No doubt some will
> be "hysterical" when viewed retrospectively. We're not
> at that point yet. In the meantime, I certainly can't
> fault a very cautious stance.
I fully agree with you, *in principle*. It is potentially 
dangerous to classify caution as exagerated when dealing with human
But let's be a little realistic. There is a huge difference, for 
instance, in the risk of eating cow's brain and of eating meat or 
dinking milk.
So, ok about forbiding brain in the human food, but how can you
imagine such a drastic change in usage and economics if a ban of beef
was decided? On which scientific basis? And what about sheep meat, po-
tentially infected with scrapie? The lack of correlation with the in-
cidence of CJD, for decades, is reassuring enough? Going further down 
with the odds, you probably know that BSE has been successfully 
transmitted to pigs and pigs eat everything. Are you sure there are no 
infected pigs around, until a SSE (swine spongiform encephalopathy) is 
discovered? Are we also going to ban pig meat?
At present, the knowledge of the risk of contracting CJD from 
BSE-infected food is no geater than the one on the association of high
voltage wires and leukemia. Is this enough for destroying all the 

*****   Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia - Oeiras, Portugal
*****   mailto:jcosta at pen.gulbenkian.pt
*****   http://www.pen.gulbenkian.pt/v2/jvc.html

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