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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 9 February 2004 Issue

Disturbing Findings about Prion Diseases

January 12, 2004

Research into prion diseases, such as mad cow and chronic wasting disease, has revealed several findings that cast doubt on statements that such diseases pose no threat to people. Here's a sampling of some of those discoveries:

Mouse study: Researchers in Great Britain found that mice injected with mad cow disease can produce a prion disease that medical experts believe is wholly unrelated to mad cow. The finding raises concerns that humans with the supposedly unrelated disease might have contracted it through eating diseased beef, instead of sporadically.

Mistaken diagnosis: Several brain studies have found that doctors sometimes make a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease when the real culprit is a prion disease known as "classical Creutzfeldt-Jakob," or CJD. Classical CJD is believed to be unrelated to mad cow, but the mouse study (above) and other findings has raised doubts about that.

Silent carriers: Researchers at a federal government laboratory in Montana have found that some animals might be "silent carriers" of prion diseases but can still pass on the disease in a laboratory setting. That suggests some animals may never show sickness, but could still pass on the disease if their nerve tissues were consumed by other animals. Pigs and chickens are still fed risky tissues from cattle. Cattle, in turn, still eat rendered pigs and chickens.

Adapting: The same Montana researchers have found that prion diseases can adapt, and even become more infective when they are transmitted to a new species. If mad cow originated in sheep, for example, it might not have become lethal to humans until it was passed to cattle, and changed its characteristics.,1299,DRMN_21_2569717,00.html

Copyright, Rocky Mountain News

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