Japan confirms vCJD death

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Feb 14, 2005
by WLJ
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare Feb. 4 confirmed Japan’s first case of the human form of BSE, variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob, in a Japanese man who died in December, according to Kyodo.
The ministry suspects the patient in his 50s was infected with the disease in Britain where he had stayed, though only for about a month, in 1989 while the country was in the midst of an outbreak of the disease.
But the ministry said the case will not affect Japan’s safety measures against mad-cow disease and negotiations over resuming U.S. beef imports, with an official saying, “The current safety measures almost completely eliminate the risk of human infection, so our position remains unchanged.”
At the same time, however, the ministry said its will provide public consultations across the country for people who feel concerned. It has also set up a telephone hotline and will create a question-and-answer section on the ministry’s website.
On the deceased man, Tohoku University professor Tetsuyuki Kitamoto, who heads the ministry’s experts committee on CJD and other diseases, said, “Al1 patients diagnosed with the variant disease outside of Europe had a history of staying in Britain and it is very likely that this patient was also infected there.”
But this case is the first in which the infected person had been in Britain for only one month, according to the ministry.
The man first showed neurological symptoms of the disease in December 2001, such as being irritated, when he was in his 40s and later developed dementia. He was bedridden for the few months before his death, according to the ministry.
The ministry said it will further investigate the source of infection by asking the man’s family about details of his stay in Britain, and check to see if he made blood donations or underwent surgery in an effort to find whether he may have passed on the disease to other people.
Computer records of the Red Cross from April 1995 showed that the man had not donated blood since then, but the ministry is trying its best to check all records dating back to 1989.
In light of the latest case, the ministry will for the time being, prohibit persons who have stayed in Britain for a month or more since 1980 from donating blood, up from the previous rule of six months or more.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi indicated the government is planning to investigate how the man contracted the disease. “I would like experts to probe the process that led up to this development and its cause, he told reporters at his office.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said the government will try to assure the public the disease is not communicable.
“This disease is not contagious. It is a problem with protein and basically terminates with the death of the individual concerned,” the top government spokesman told a press conference.
Asked about possible implications for the issue of Japan’s plan to lift a ban on imports of U.S. beef, Hosoda said, “Japan and the United States are holding consultations based on scientific evidence. We will address the issue squarely and take this (latest development) into future discussions.”
Consumer groups expressed concern about the safety of beef. “We feared an event like this could happen because the variant type is said to take time after consumption until symptoms appear,” Yoko Tomiyama, an official of the Consumer Union of Japan, said.
Last September, the ministry convened a meeting of a surveillance committee to diagnose the patient’s disease while consulting with experts in Britain. — WLJ