CJD deaths increasing by a third each year

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Cases of the human version of BSE have risen markedly for the first time, according to an analysis published today in the medical journal The Lancet.

Cases of the human version of BSE have risen markedly for the first time, according to an analysis published today in the medical journal The Lancet.

Latest figures show that the number of deaths from the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy is increasing by one-third each year, with a total number of 79 definite and probable cases up to the middle of July.

Although the number of new cases of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) have increased steadily since 1994, the figures are now large enough to reveal a statistically significant rise.

"We believe that our findings reflect a real increase in the incidence of vCJD in the UK. Such an increase is clearly a matter of concern, although we emphasise that the absolute number of cases is low," say the scientists from the Public Health Laboratory Service, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the National CJD Surveillance Unit.

The study analysed the date of onset of the brain-wasting disease as well as deaths between 1994 and 2000. The number of onsets increased by 23 per cent each year, whereas deaths increased by 33 per cent between 1995 and 2000. The underlying incidence has risen from an estimated two new cases per quarter in 1994 to 6.5 new cases this year.

Hester Ward, consultant epidemiologist at the CJD Surveillance Unit, said that 14 people died from vCJD in the first six month of this year. The figures point to between 25 and 30 new cases by the end of the year, compared with 17 for the whole of 1999.

"This is the first time this analysis has reached statistical significance. We really can't tell the size of the epidemic until we've reached the peak, all we can say is that it is increasing but we don't know for how long," Dr Ward said. She said it was premature to say the worst was over. "I don't think you can say that from these figures. The worst is not over for this year."

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