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Reopening the debate on the origins of vCJD

A new epidemiological study suggests that variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease may have developed independently of animal spongiform encephalopathies.

Pat Hagan(phagan@btinternet.com)

LONDON — It's a fair bet that the letters pages of the British Medical Journal will not be short of correspondence in the coming weeks. A paper in 13 October edition suggesting there may be no link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) — or 'mad cow disease' — and variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (vCJD), its human equivalent, is certain to spark a heated debate.

And that, according to George Venters, the public health specialist at Lanarkshire Health Board who wrote the paper, is exactly what he intended. Venters, an epidemiologist with long experience of infectious diseases, is deeply troubled by what he calls 'speculation that has evolved into orthodoxy' on the causal link between the consumption of BSE-infected meat and variant CJD.

Such is the sensitivity of his argument that it seems inconceivable it will not have the desired effect. Already, senior officials at the UK's Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease surveillance unit,...

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