Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

(Human Mad Cow Disease; vCJD)


Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is a fatal type of prion disease. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a prion disease that affects cows. There is evidence that this illness can be transmitted to humans, producing vCJD. This illness is often called mad cow disease.


It is generally believed that vCJD is caused by infectious proteins called prions. Prions are normal proteins in the body. If these prions fold up in a different way than normal, they may transform into the protein that causes the illness. The build-up of abnormal prions may be linked to the brain damage associated with vCJD.
The Nervous System
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Risk Factors

Variant CJD is more common in younger people. Factors that may increase your chance of getting vCJD include exposure to prion-containing tissue. This may occur from:
  • Eating beef from infected cows
  • Receiving a blood transfusion from someone who had the disease


After you are exposed, it can take up to 20 years until symptoms develop. When symptoms develop, they usually follow these 3 phases:
  • Early phase (0 to 6 months)— psychiatric symptoms, such as depression , anxiety , withdrawal, memory problems, and difficulty pronouncing words
  • Middle phase—neurologic symptoms predominate, such as abnormal gait, problems with coordination, muscle jerks and stiffness, and impaired speech
  • Late phase—mute, immobility


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:
  • Blood tests
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) to record the electical activity of the brain
  • Cerebrospinal fluid analysis
  • Brain biopsy
  • Tonsillar biopsy
Imaging tests take pictures inside your body structures. Imaging tests may include: In many cases, a final diagnosis is not determined until an autopsy is completed after death.

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