Forensic Institute identifies human mad cow disease

Genetic illness common among Jews of Libyan descent.

Cow 521 (photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)
Cow 521
(photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)
The L. Greenberg Forensic Institute at Abu Kabir identified the body of a man who died in an unnamed hospital as having suffered from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). The rare disease, which occurs in one in a million people, is more common in its genetic form among Jews of Libyan origin.
In its infectious form, it is know as a human form of mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE) that was spread in the UK some years ago and resulted in the prohibition of taking blood from people who spent time in that country.
The Health Ministry said Tuesday that the danger of being infected under normal conditions was negligible.
Prof. Arnon Afek, head of the ministry’s medical administration, and doctors at the forensic institute consulted with Dr.
Eitan Yisraeli, an expert on protection from infections, on how to take protective measures and disinfect equipment and rooms at Abu Kabir. This process was fully carried out.
CJD is a degenerative, fatal and incurable disease of the brain that can affect adults of varying ages. The brain tissue becomes “spongy.” Between five percent and 10% of cases were caused by the genetic disease and the rest by “misfolded proteins” called prions that build up and form amyloids similar to those that appear in the brain with Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms include progressive dementia that develops rapidly and leads to memory loss, hallucinations and personality changes.
The ministry did not say whether the victim whose body underwent an autopsy was of Libyan origin, nor did it reveal his age.
British scientists discovered less than a decade ago a similar disease called Kuru, which appeared among cannibals in Papua New Guinea. Relatives used to eat the brains of dead relatives as a sign of mourning.
But the prions in Kuru incubated themselves for anywhere between two and five decades, suggesting that the CJD could do the same.