Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What, me worry?

Global warming? No problem. Mercury in power plant emissions? No problem. Mad cow disease. Ummmm.
Idaho officials on Friday confirmed one case of naturally occurring Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and are investigating five other suspected cases, but said none are believed to be caused by eating infected animals. (Reuters)
No problem. I guess. Except:
Naturally occurring CJD is found at a rate of about one case per 1 million population annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Yet in a state with only 1.4 million people the fact that Idaho has so many suspected cases of the rare disease has sparked concern.

Shanahan said researchers at Case Western Reserve confirmed that brain tissue from one woman showed CJD caused her death and that the state was waiting for results from two other tests. All the deaths occurred this year, beginning in February, he said.

"We actually are real concerned because we have never had more than three cases in a year and they are in one geographic area," Shanahan said.
Well, since they seem to be sure it is "naturally occurring" CJD. Because they said so. Of course Idaho officials are still looking into it, checking such things as the victims' diets. But they're already sure it isn't from meat. And meat experts agree with them:
"We are confident in the accuracy of the assessment of the Idaho Health Department that these cases of CJD have absolutely nothing to do with BSE," said American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle. "Beef has been, and remains, safe to eat."
Of course. And since there are less than 300 cases of CJD reported per year in the US, and populous Idaho is one of 50 states, why shouldn't it have 1/50 the cases in one small geographic area? No problem.

Like New Jersey:
Last year, health officials found a cluster of 13 deaths due to naturally occurring CJD in New Jersey between 1988 and 1992. All of those people either attended or worked at a racetrack in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, according to investigators.
Another fluke. No problem.

Well, maybe one small problem. The distinction between "sporadic" or "normal" CJD and variant CJD doesn't seem to be as hard and fast as we once thought. Experiments in transgenic mice suggest that BSE (mad cow) prions can produce "sporadic" CJD prions (Asante et al., EMBO Journal)

Oh, and this one:
Inspectors have found more than 1,000 violations of rules aimed at preventing mad cow disease from reaching humans, the Agriculture Department said Monday. No contaminated meat reached consumers, the agency said.

The rules, created in 2003, require that brains, spinal cords and other nerve parts--which can carry mad cow disease--be removed when older cows are slaughtered. The USDA said it had cited beef slaughterhouses or processing plants 1,036 times for failure to comply. (Chicago Tribune)
Small problem. No problem. Big deal. Same thing.