American With Rare, Fatal Brain Disease Probably Got It From Eating Beef Overseas A Decade Ago

By: Rachael Rettner
Published: April 15, 2015 12:00pm ET

A U.S. man who developed a rare and fatal brain disease likely got the disease from eating beef while living abroad more than a decade earlier, according to a new report of the case.

The man, who was in his 40s when he first got sick, died in Texas in May 2014. Because the condition, known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, is so rare, the man was misdiagnosed and even hospitalized for psychiatric symptoms multiple times before doctors suspected the true cause of his symptoms, according to the report from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Baylor College of Medicine.

Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is thought to arise from eating beef contaminated with infectious prions, which are proteins that fold abnormally and form lesions in the brain. In the United Kingdom, there have been nearly 200 cases of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease tied to eating contaminated beef in the 1980s and 1990s. (In cattle, the condition is sometimes known as “mad cow disease.”)

In the United States, there have been three earlier cases of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but in all of these cases, the patients had previously lived in either the United Kingdom or Saudi Arabia.

In the new case, the man had never lived in the United Kingdom, or in any country where people have been suspected of acquiring variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) from eating beef. However, the man had lived in Kuwait, Russia and Lebanon, and the researchers suspect he likely got the disease while living in one of these countries, all of which had imported beef from the United Kingdom.

The man’s case shows “the persistent risk for vCJD acquired in unsuspected geographic locations and highlights the need for continued global surveillance and awareness to prevent further dissemination of vCJD,” the researchers —> Read More