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Swiss announce plans to fight new variant CJD

Swiss health officials say people will have eaten meat infected with BSE Keystone Archive

The Federal Office for Public Health is to establish an organ tissue bank to combat the new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD). To date, no case has come to light in Switzerland, but officials say they want to be prepared for such an eventuality.

This content was published on June 1, 2001 - 19:31

According to Colette Rogivue, a researcher at the ministry, the Swiss authorities are working on the principle that the human form of "mad cow" disease will appear in Switzerland.

Her fears are founded on a number of facts. Firstly, Swiss researchers are almost certain that CJD can be transmitted by the ingestion of products containing parts of cows suffering from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

These products were only removed from the food chain in 1990, the year when action was taken to combat BSE in Switzerland. However, according to researchers, the population would have been eating them prior to that date.

Furthermore, the development of the disease in Britain has persuaded the Swiss authorities that the same pattern will be repeated in Switzerland, said Rogivue. So far more than 100 cases of new variant CJD have been discovered in the United Kingdom, with nearly all of them resulting in death.

In order to combat the threat of the disease in Switzerland, around SFr3 million is to be spent over the next five years on setting up the organ tissue bank. The first results are expected within two years.

Up until now, prionic diseases, such as CJD, have not been diagnosed until after the death of a patient, explained Rogivue. But researchers are hoping that with the advent of new, sophisticated techniques, they will be able to spot diseases before they become full-blown.

Prions are protein particles which are believed to lie at the root of brain diseases such as BSE and CJD.

As part of the programme, Swiss hospitals will be asked to preserve appendixes, tonsils and lymph glands, removed during operations, and send them to the research centre where they will be studied. Rogivue said organs would only be used with patients' consent.

swissinfo with agencies

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