Brussels, 11 Aug 2004
A team of French researchers has found evidence to suggest that young people may be more likely to contract Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), the human form of BSE, than adults.
A disproportionate number of the 142 people believed to have died from the disease so far in the UK have been young. Some argue that this is because young people were more likely to have eaten BSE infected meat, but other scientists, including the French team, reject this theory arguing that it doesn't sufficiently explain the disparity.
The researchers used new statistics on the UK population's exposure to meat infected with BSE to predict how CJD should impact on different age groups. Computer models suggested that 48 per cent of those infected with CJD should be over 40 years old, but in reality only 10 per cent of victims had reached this age.
However, when the computer model was modified to include an age-related susceptibility to the disease, whereby the risk of contracting CJD increased during childhood, peaked at adolescence and decreased sharply thereafter, the model predicted that 12 per cent of victims would be over 40 - much closer to the true figure.
The team accepts that further research is needed in order to prove their theory, but they argue that their findings prove that simply eating more BSE-infected meat cannot explain the relatively high mortality rates among young people.
One proposed explanation for the disparity relates to changes in the intestines of growing children. 'We found that exposure alone could not explain the age of vCJD cases as seen in the UK,' explained Pierre-Yves Boelle, a member of the research team. 'One possible explanation for the difference in susceptibility could be that the permeability of the intestinal barrier changes with age,' he concluded.