There is no evidence that people who ate at a New Jersey racetrack have become infected with a rare human version of “mad cow” disease, U.S. health officials said on Friday.
There is no evidence that people who ate at a New Jersey racetrack have become infected with a rare human version of “mad cow” disease, U.S. health officials said on Friday. An investigation of a possible cluster of cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease related to the now-closed racetrack showed no one had been infected by tainted beef and there were no more cases of CJD than would have been expected naturally. CJD is the human equivalent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease. BSE swept British herds in the 1980s and later a human version, variant CJD, was found in people who had eaten contaminated beef products. Both diseases destroy the brain. They are incurable and always fatal. U.S. agricultural officials said for years that U.S. beef was free of BSE, but several critics said the surveillance system was not adequate for finding cattle with the disease. In December, a single U.S. cow tested positive for BSE in Washington state, long after it had been slaughtered and processed. Officials found the cow had been imported from Canada, but the incident raised fears BSE could be undetected in the U.S. beef supply. New Jersey businesswoman Janet Skarbek publicized her fears about a possible CJD cluster after the December case, and New Jersey health officials as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched an investigation. “The evidence does not support the existence of an outbreak of CJD among attendees at the Garden State Racetrack, nor does it suggest that case-patients with CJD were exposed to BSE-contaminated beef in the period from 1988 to 1992 at the Garden State Racetrack in New Jersey,” the New Jersey report said. NOT CONVINCED But Skarbek, who raised questions about the racetrack after a friend who worked there died of a neurological disease, vowed to pursue the issue. “It’s ridiculous,” she said in a telephone interview.She noted that British health officials at first denied people could develop CJD from eating BSE-infected beef. “In this case I believe they are going to be wrong again,” Skarbek said. “I believe they are doing just what they did in the U.K. — dismissing this as fast as they can so it won’t impact cattle sales.” The issue is confusing because people can develop CJD unrelated to eating beef. So-called sporadic CJD occurs in about one in a million people. But under a microscope, CJD and the variant CJD linked to eating tainted beef look very different. Health experts are confident they can tell the difference. “It was a thorough, thorough investigation” Dr. Clifton Lacy, commissioner of health and senior services for New Jersey, told a news conference. “The number of cases is well within the range of expected cases for New Jersey and the United States.” New Jersey health officials examined the records of 17 people who died in six states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Virginia and Delaware. The patients had a mean age of 67. CJD becomes more common as people get older because it can take decades to develop. CJD is seen in 4 people per million over the age of 55. The CDC said doctors should examine the brains of possible CJD patients after death. “The findings underscore the need for physicians to arrange for brain autopsies of all patients with clinically suspected or diagnosed CJD,” the CDC said in a statement. (Source: Reuters Health, May 2004)