Lifestyle & Belief

Mad cow UK study: About 30,000 Britons may carry dormant disease


A a slaughtered cow's brain tissue sample January 9, 2001 in Bodegraven, the Netherlands.


Michel Porro

Health experts say 30,000 Britons — double a prior estimate — likely carry a dormant form of mad cow disease, and that in a high-case scenario up to 1,000 people could die from it. 

The degenerative brain illness, the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), may likely only be contracted via blood transfusions, as it's thought to have been eradicated from the beef supply.

No new cases have been reported for two years, but mad cow has claimed 176 lives, and many in the UK will not forget the fear of the late 80s and 90s when millions of animals were killed to help prevent the spread of the disease.

The risk assessment study, published in April by the government’s Health Protection Analytical team, says about 1 in 2,000 Britons (or 30,000) may be "silent" carriers of proteins that cause some people to get sick, and can without knowing infect others if they donate blood. 

According to the French Tribune, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service does "not accept blood donations from people who spent one or more years in the UK between January 1980 and December 1996."

Former Labor Health Secretary Frank Dobson told the Telegraph that “everything humanly possible should be done to develop a blood test” that can be used to screen the nation to help stop more “horrendous deaths.”

“There is no room at all for complacency,” he said. “With a blood test, you would be able to screen every potential donor. If that screening showed the incidence was higher than thought then maybe you would do it for the whole population.”

Still, a department of health spokeswoman called on "people of all ages to give blood," adding that there "is no evidence of any UK clinical cases of vCJD being linked to a blood transfusion given after 1999."