BSE menace arrives in Portugal infecting child

PORTUGAL’S FIRST confirmed case of Human Variant Mad Cow Disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), has been recorded in Portugal. The victim is a 13-year-old boy who probably contracted the disease, known as Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, in 1998 or 1999 and has been suffering from the illness for a year. It is believed that the child, from the north of the country, contracted the illness by eating contaminated beef.

The child’s parents are waiting to know if he will be transferred to England to be treated by specialists (there are 149 confirmed cases of BSE in the UK over the past decade). “At the moment, his prognosis is very poor,” said Francisco Jorge, Deputy Director General of Health.

The first symptoms of the disease became apparent around 12 months ago, with any doubts of the suspected diagnosis being dispelled after a biopsy was sent to a laboratory in Scotland for confirmation.

The positive result arrived five days ago when the Portuguese health authorities notified the European Commission’s Health Unit about the diagnosis. The authorities say it is difficult to pinpoint the exact time of infection “because the period of incubation can take anything from six to eight years or more, although we can deduce the infection happened before 2000”.

“No one has any doubts that this is only the first case and that there will be more in future,” warns Mário Jorge, president of the Associação Portuguesa dos Médicos de Saúde Pública, the Portuguese medical association for public health. But he underlined the fact that the disease in its human form was extremely rare with only 165 cases recorded and confirmed worldwide.

Symptoms of the illness include psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety and psychosis, followed later by memory loss and lack of balance. In the final stages, the patient becomes completely demented and falls into a persistent vegetative state. C.G.