The end of 2002 has seen a total of 129 definitive or probable
cases of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) reported in the United Kingdom
(UK) (1). Elsewhere numbers remain small, with 8 cases in Europe (6 in France,
1 in Italy, and 1 in the Republic of Ireland) and a further 2 cases in North
America (Canada and the USA).
The latest figures show that in the UK last year 17 people died from vCJD,
3 less than the previous year (see figure). A further 8 cases are still
alive. It is, however, too early to conclude the epidemic is waning. To
date, all affected people have been methionine homozygotes at codon 129
of the prion protein gene but other genotypes may also be susceptible.
Figure: Deaths of definite and probable vCJD in the UK (data to
6 January 2003)
There is currently no effective treatment for vCJD, which is believed to
be caused by exposure to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) agent,
most plausibly through eating BSE contaminated meat or meat products.