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Biology and Genetics - Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD)

vCJD is a very serious degenerative disease of the human brain linked to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease. 

This disease (vCJD) is a rare though fatal human neurodegenerative condition, associated with eating animal products, especially beef, infected with prions (the cause of BSE). These prions combine in clumps which cause nerve cell death and show up as gaps or holes in the brain, the origin of the spongy form of BSE. Symptoms include painful sensory systems, depression, memory impairment and dementia. Death usually occurs within two years of first diagnosis. The median age at death for vCJD is around 28 years of age and nearly all cases of the disease have been in individuals under the age of 55 years. Most confirmed cases of vCJD have occurred in the United Kingdom and France and have been linked to consumption of contaminated cow products. Even so, the probability of developing vCJD from consuming infected cattle tissues is extremely small. Nonetheless vCJD is an irreversible disease for which there is no known treatment.

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Contributor: Roxanne Lewis

Last Reviewed: June 2, 2010

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