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CDC Investigates Mad Cow Disease Death Of Texas Man

Man was hospitalized in Houston but likely infected overseas.



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Remember the hysteria over the fatal disease you can get simply by eating infected beef around the turn of the last century? There hasn’t been a lot of talk about it since then.

But now a man who was hospitalized here in Houston has died from variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, or CJD, the human form of mad cow disease.

“The lab test confirmed the diagnosis of variant CJD in the last month. And this was an adult male living in Texas,” said Carrie Williams with the Texas Department of State Health Services, which is investigating the case in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The DSHS is not confirming details on identity and place of death for confidentiality reasons.

But Porfirio Villarreal with the City of Houston’s Health Department said the man was hospitalized here and that he most likely died here as well, although he was not a resident of Houston.

“We were notified May 2 that there was a possible case of variant CJD,” Villarreal said. “And then later we learned May 15 that the person had died. And of course now we know that it’s been confirmed as a case.”  

Williams with DSHS said the man had frequently traveled to Europe and the Middle East and that’s likely where he got infected.

“We have no indication that exposure occurred here in the United States,” she said. “All of the cases that have ever been reported here have travel history and the belief is that the exposures happened overseas.”

Mad cow disease is a fatal brain disorder that affects cattle and some other animals. Its medical name is bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. Variant CJD in humans is believed to develop from eating BSE-infected meat.

Dr. George Jackson, a neurologist at Baylor College of Medicine, said Creutzfeld-Jakob disease occurs occasionally in Texas but the variant known as mad cow disease is much rarer in humans.

“CJD usually is a dementing illness, meaning that it causes loss of cognitive faculties, memory and other symptoms,” Jackson said, “but it usually occurs in older individuals, whereas this variant form, again the one that was first described in the United Kingdom in the ‘90s, occurs in much younger individuals.”  

This recent case is only the fourth in the United States and the second in Texas. Worldwide, more than 220 variant CJD cases have been reported, the majority of them in the UK.

The CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services continue to investigate in this case and plan to release more information as it becomes available.