These first images of animals suffering from Mad Cow disease led to food scares in Britain and around the world. The issue was treated with a mixture of panic--and now it turns out--and ignorance.
There have been 14 deaths from the human Form of Mad Cow disease so far this year, bringing the total to 69. And according to today's issue of the leading British medical journal, the number is rising by 30% a year.
Until this week, it was thought that humans caught the disease by eating infected meat and meat products. Now it seems there could be other means of transmission.
Dentists here have been told it is theoretically possible that variant CJD, the human form of Mad Cow disease, could be passed on from person to person during dental surgery by inadequately sterilized instruments.
Normal sterilization techniques, they say, may not be sufficient to kill the CJD agent
They're sterilized very much against certain things like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV--things that we know about are definitely transferred. But being sterilized for them does not work against Creutsfeld Jabobs disease," says microbiologist Dr Stephen Dealler. "It won't work."
Microbiologist Stephen Dealler who has worked in this field from the beginning, warned dentists two years ago, but no one took any notice. He has been warning successive British governments about the risks for years, he says, and they have always been slow to act.
"In 1993, I went to the government and said we must assume there is a risk from blood transfusion in the UK. We must assume it and it just got ignored. But in 1996, they turned around and said, 'Oh, sorry Steve we now think you're right,'" says Dealler.
But with the news that the number of deaths from the human form of Mad Cow disease is rising faster than ever, the risks are now being taken very seriously by the British government, and scientists are being forced to admit that they know alarmingly little about this terrible disease.
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