In a letter in tomorrow's Lancet, scientists from Lyons describe a 52-year-old French woman, who died in October 1995, suffering features of the "new" CJD, which is increasingly strongly linked to exposure to the agent which causes BSE in cattle. She was confused and unable to stand. Scans revealed regular brainwaves, symptoms typical of the new variant. She also had a genetic configuration common to 38 per cent of the population but common so far to every new-variant victim.
Since 1993 there have been 12 confirmed cases of the new variant in Britain. In March the Government said the most likely explanation was exposure to BSE and since then a growing number of experiments have backed this hypothesis. The result was a ban on British beef exports to the rest of Europe. BSE has been found in France, with 10 cases reported this year, and a total of 23 since 1990. But some observers have said the extent is being covered up.
If the new variant of CJD is definitely linked to BSE, and there are more cases in France, it could devastate farming there as it has in Britain, where the pounds 500m beef export industry has almost been destroyed.
The French scientists say examination of the woman's brain showed the plaques and spongy holes typical of the new form of disease. The first reported case of the new variant in France was a 26-year-old mechanic, also from Lyons, who had never been to Britain and had had no contact with cattle.
If the latest case is confirmed, the victim would be the oldest so far reported. Currently, almost all are under 42, though one is suspected in a 51-year-old Briton. The scientists did not provide any travel or dietary details about the woman, but noted that in 1984 she had a brain operation in which she received human tissue.
Such operations have previously caused CJD, by passing it on from infected surgical instruments, but the new variant was unknown before this year, and CJD transmitted in this way usually shows up more quickly.
Martin Zeidler, research registrar at the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh, said: "At the moment you can't say this is a new variant like the BSE- related ones in Britain. It is not impossible that this lady's illness could be related the graft."
French authorities have requested the closure of the Hard Rock Cafe in Paris after police seized 660lb of British beef banned due to the "mad-cow" scare. Veterinary agents were on a routine search when they found the beef in the back of the restaurant's kitchen. The France Soir daily said the meat was stocked as hamburgers; agents said the restaurant had earlier been questioned about previously unstamped beef.Reuse content