27 October 1995

CJD:A fourth farmer is ill

A FOURTH farmer is believed to be suffering from Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (CJD), the human form of the cattle brain disease BSE.

An accurate diagnosis is not possible until post-mortem examinations are carried out. But the Department of Health and the CJD surveillance unit in Edinburgh are monitoring the case. The farmer is reported to come from north Wales.

Three cattle farmers have died from CJD in the past two years (News, Oct 6). Government scientists are also reported to be investigating the death three weeks ago of a farmers wife who had the disease.

Department of Health officials insist there is no evidence of an emerging CJD epidemic. But a leaked report from the governments spongiform encephalopathy advisory committee said it was difficult to explain the three deaths of farmers, and the suspected fourth case, simply as "a chance phenomenon".

It added that the disease may have been caused by factors other than the farmers contact with BSE-infected animals.

The committee said there was a statistical excess of CJD cases in cattle farmers compared with the general population, but the risk was still extremely low – about two cases per million per year.

It also noted that there were no reported cases of CJD in other occupational groups, including vets, who had contact with cattle. CJD monitoring in Europe showed a similar incidence in farmers, even in countries with no BSE.

CJD causes degeneration of the brain, leading to memory loss, dementia and failure of co-ordination. There were 55 cases in Britain last year, up from 42 in 1993.