First Canadian dies of human mad cow strain
Author: Kanina Holmes
"All evidence points to the person having acquired variant CJD, this disease, from multiple long-term stays in the U.K.," Dr. Antonio Giulivi of Health Canada told reporters.
"There is no evidence that mad cow disease has entered the Canadian food supply, and therefore we can reassure the Canadian public the person did not acquire the disease in Canada," said Giulivi, who directs the acquired infections division of the federal health department.
At a nationally broadcast news conference, local, provincial and federal health officials said the victim was a man under the age of 50 who lived in Saskatchewan, a key farming province in the Canadian Prairies.
The man worked and lived in Britain in the 1990s and regularly ate processed meat products and beef at a time when cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, peaked.
Citing confidentiality rules, health authorities would release few other details about the victim.
New variant CJD, is a rare and deadly degenerative brain disorder linked to eating meat from cattle infected with BSE. It has an average incubation period of seven to 15 years. Once symptomatic, patients usually die with 14 months.
Doctors said they first suspected the man had the disease in April. A positive diagnosis was made only following his death and after tissue samples were sent to British experts.
Worldwide, about 135 cases of vCJD have been reported, 125 of them in Britain, where scientists warned last month that dozens would die there from the disease this year.
Last April, the United States reported its first probable case of vCJD in a 22-year-old British woman in Florida. U.S. officials said she, too, most likely contracted the disease while living in Britain.
BSE SCARES RATTLE BEEF INDUSTRY
After beef consumption dramatically declined in Britain and Japan as a result of BSE scares, the cattle industry is now concerned that a North American case would batter beef sales in Canada and the United States.
Canada is among the world's top beef exporters, with exports in 2001 worth C$2.2 billion ($1.4 billion). About half the beef produced is consumed domestically while 70 percent of exports are sold to the United States.
There have been no cases of BSE in native cattle in North America. In 1993, Canada reported BSE in a single cow imported from Britain. That animal and its herdmates were destroyed.
Like the United States, Canada no longer imports animals or meat products from countries where there is a BSE risk.
"We've continually met or exceeded the international requirements of surveillance for BSE. That program is ongoing and it's increased every year," said Sandra Stephens, a veterinary program specialist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
"That gives us a fair degree of confidence that we do not have BSE in the Canadian cattle population," Stephens said.
The largest U.S. cattle organization, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, also said on Thursday there was no need for consumers to be alarmed.
Canada's elk ranching industry has been devastated by the discovery in 1996 of chronic wasting disease, a disorder similar to mad cow disease. Three cases of CWD have been detected in wild deer in Saskatchewan, most recently in June.
Health officials said on Thursday the Canadian vCJD victim did not eat venison or elk.
But there were other public health concerns, including fears of possible transmission to 71 other patients at a Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, hospital who came into contact with medical equipment previously used on the vCJD victim.
"We have been contacting these patients over the last 24 hours to notify them of the facts and to explain the extremely minute risk that they have been exposed to the new variant CJD agent," said Dr. Stephen Whitehead, a Saskatchewan medical health officer.
Officials said the risk of cross contamination was tiny, given regular cleaning and disinfection of the equipment.