Hong Kong: possible case of vCJD

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Nando Times

Hong Kong patient has human form of mad cow disease, officials say

By HELEN LUK, Associated Press

HONG KONG (June 9, 2001 08:37 a.m. EDT) - Doctors suspect that a Chinese woman is suffering from the human form of mad cow disease in what would be the first case of the lethal brain-wasting sickness in Hong Kong, health officials said.

After performing brain scans and tests, doctors believed the unidentified 34-year-old woman has variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the Hospital Authority said.

Her symptoms include a progressive neurological disorder, involuntary limb movements and dementia, the hospital authority said. She was admitted to a hospital last month and is in serious condition.

Director of Health Margaret Chan said the government is seeking the views of British experts.

"I must stress that it is still a suspected case at this stage and the experts are still investigating," Chan said.

Neurologist Richard Kay, who is treating the woman, said she probably contracted the disease from eating beef in Britain, but doctors were awaiting a diagnosis from the National Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Surveillance Center in Edinburgh, Scotland.

"She can't walk and can't talk coherently, but she is still conscious," Kay said.

Chan stressed that the patient never donated blood - a possible means of spreading the disease - during her stay in Hong Kong, and noted that Hong Kong banned beef imports from Britain in 1996.

First reported in 1996, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has killed about 80 Europeans since the mid-1990s, mostly in Britain.

People are believed to contract the illness by eating meat from cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. It usually manifests itself in humans as depression, memory loss and dementia as the brain turns "spongy."

The disease can only be confirmed by an examination of the brain after death.

According to the hospital authority, the patient lived in Hong Kong from 1992 to 1997, but had lived in Britain and traveled there several times. She returned to Britain in 1997 and returned to Hong Kong for treatment early this year.

Two unrelated livestock diseases - mad cow and foot-and-mouth - have prompted many Asian countries to ban meat imports from European countries, including Britain, France and Germany.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), June 10, 2001

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