Spain reports two deaths from human variant of mad cow disease

April 8, 2008

MADRID – Two people in Spain have died of the human variant of mad cow disease, in the first such fatalities since 2005, officials said Monday.

The victims were ages 40 and 51, one died in December and the other in February, said Jose Javier Castrodeza, director of public health at the regional government. Until now Spain’s only fatality from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease came in 2005 with the death of a 26-year-old woman in Madrid.

Mad cow disease was first reported in Britain in the mid-1980s. Authorities believe eating meat from infected animals can cause the human variant of the fatal brain-wasting disease.

Spain has reported more than 700 cases of mad cow disease since it was first detected there in 2000, according to health ministry figures. The disease causes psychiatric symptoms such as depression or a schizophrenia-like psychosis. A series of neurological signs will follow as the illness rapidly progresses including unsteadiness, difficulty walking and involuntary movements. By the time of death, the victims become completely immobile and mute.

The disease is more common than most people would think. Studies estimated that in Britain alone more than 3000 people may carry the disease without knowing it.

By November 2002, 129 cases of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease had been reported in the UK, six in France and one each in Canada, Ireland, Italy and the United States of America.

Officials are appealing for for calm and insisting it is safe to eat beef in Spain.


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