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Risk of variant CJD 'overestimated' in the UK

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The number of people in the UK who may have variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) could be fewer than previously estimated, Health Protection Agency researchers have said.

Since 1995, there have been 168 definite or probable cases of vCJD in the UK. Previous research has suggested that this figure could be much higher in the next few years, with researchers predicting between 520 and 13,000 cases.

However, HPA researchers - who tested the tonsil tissue samples of more than 63,000 people - found no evidence of the disease in any of the samples.

None of the samples tested positive for the prion protein (PrPCJD), which is known to accumulate to high levels in the tonsils of people with vCJD, suggesting the prevalence of vCJD carriers in the UK may be lower than previously thought.

Study author Jonathan Clewley, an expert on vCJD at the HPA, said: ‘It may be that we have seen the worst of vCJD already, although we need to keep vigilant and implement appropriate public health measures to prevent any possible secondary spread of the disease.’

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