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vCJD/Mad cow disease

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  1. Introduction
  2. vCJD: Causes
  3. The first known cases of vCJD
  4. Treatments for vCJD
  5. Experiments using RNA
  6. Conclusion
  7. Sources

vCJD stands for variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. It is the disease humans get when they consume beef from cows with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease). vCJD is a separate disease from regular CJD, which, though it is a prion disease that causes similar symptoms, cannot be acquired from beef consumption. Regular CJD occurs sporadically in one in every one million people for unknown reasons (90% of all known cases), can be caused by genetic mutations (5-10% of all known cases), or can be transmitted via surgical equipment contaminated with the infectious agent (less than 5% of known cases).

[...] Pentosan polysulphate, a drug used to treat interstitial cystitis disease of unknown cause that damages the lining of the urinary bladder), has been used experimentally but has shown little effect in stopping vCJD, though it may have slightly increased the life-spans of those treated with it. There have been experiments using RNA to slow down the progression of scrapie, a related prion disease that affects sheep, by blocking the production of the prion protein. In addition, research has been made into producing cattle that are less likely to develop BSE by altering their genomes. [...]

[...] The only completely reliable way to diagnose vCJD is to biopsy brain tissue. The presence of microscopic holes where cells have died gives the tissue a distinctly sponge-like appearance for which spongiform encephalopathies are named. Abnormal EEG readings and MRI's can also be highly indicative of vCJD. The first known cases of vCJD were reported in 1996. Since then, at least 200 cases of vCJD have been reported; with over 160 of these coming from the UK.4 Since 1996, vCJD has been linked to the emergence of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy). [...]

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