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What is Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease? Q&As

Frequently Asked Questions about Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)

What is Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)?

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is a rare fatal brain disorder which was first recognised more than 70 years ago. There is no effective treatment and no reliable test to predict the disease. Approximately 85 percent of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease illnesses occur spontaneously without any known cause. Other causes include certain medical treatments that are no longer used such as human growth hormone injections, dural grafts (brain membrane). The symptoms may take 30 years to develop. Since the disease was identified by Dr. Alfons Maria Jakob in the 1920's, over 3,000 cases have been reported world-wide.

What is variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD)?

A new and more aggressive strain of the disease which was identified in the United Kingdom in 1996. It produces similar symptoms to classical CJD though the disease develops more rapidly. Variant CJD is thought to be contracted by eating meat infected with bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) which has been described as "mad cow disease" in the UK. It historically has affected people in the 16 to 52 year age group. The mean age is 28 years.

What are the differences between CJD and vCJD?

CJD tends to affect people aged from 60+ and symptoms may take 30 years to develop, whereas vCJD has been found in teenagers and young adults and it develops more rapidly. An early feature of vCJD is changes in mood followed by neurological changes.

Have there been any cases of CJD in New Zealand?

Since 1980 approximately two to three cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease have been identified in New Zealand each year. This figure represents approximately one case per million people per year - the expected rate seen internationally.

In 1996 CJD was made a notifiable disease and a case register for CJD established. The register is similar to those already operating in Australia and the United Kingdom. This means all cases of CJD are notified so that cases can be reviewed and investigated to ensure consistent diagnosis and risk factor identification. Have

there been any cases of vCJD in New Zealand?


Is the Ministry aware of anyone within New Zealand that has travelled to the UK and become infected with vCJD?

No. The Ministry does not believe that people who have travelled to the UK should be concerned about their health. To date, there is no evidence that travellers to the UK, even those who may have eaten beef while travelling there, have become infected with vCJD.

vCJD was first identified in 1996 in the UK, so why has it taken New Zealand so long to take this step?

Canada and the US introduced similar measures in August 1999, although their policies do not take effect until the year 2000. Before similar steps could be taken in New Zealand the blood service needed to assess what impact such action would have on the availability of blood.

How many people in the UK have vCJD?

Figures released in September 1999 indicated that there were 48 cases of vCJD in the UK.

Have there been any other reports internationally of vCJD?

There has been one case reported in France and one in Ireland.

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