Human strain of mad cow disease can be passed via skin

Sarah Knapton
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) can be passed via the skin, new research shows  - lev dolgachov

The human strain of mad cow disease can be passed from human-to-human, a new study has found.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), affects around two in a million people and kills around 90 people each year in Britain.

Until now doctors thought it was only possible to contract the disease through eating infected meat, or coming into contact with the brain or hormones of an infected person, such as during an autopsy, or a medical accident.

But new research by Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, has shown that the misfolded proteins which cause CJD, are present in the skin of survivors, and could cause an infection if they entered the bloodstream of another individual,

CJD causes microscopic sponge-like holes to form in the brain causing memory loss, behavioural changes as well as vision and movement problems. Around 90 per cent of people die within one year of the onset of symptoms.

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Researchers studied 38 patients with the disease and found CJD was present on the skin of each one.

"The level of infectivity detected in CJD skin was surprisingly significant, but still much lower than that in CJD brains," said Dr Qingzhong Kong, Associate Professor of Pathology and Neurology at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

"Prion transmission risk from surgical instruments contaminated by skin prions should be much lower than that of instruments contaminated by brain tissue."

The research was published in Science Translational Medicine.

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