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Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies 

Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies
Chapter:
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies
Author(s):

Peter G. Smith

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780198719830.003.0024
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date: 23 February 2020

Until 1986, transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) were mainly of interest because of the unusual nature of the causative infectious agent—an infectious protein (prion) containing no deoxyribonucleic acid and with remarkable survival properties. However, following the large epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the United Kingdom (UK), and its subsequent spread to the human population where it caused variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (vCJD), there was concern about the possible emergence of a very significant public health problem. Epidemiological studies were key to elucidating the cause of the BSE epidemic and designing effective control measures. Contrary to some initial expectations, the epidemic of vCJD was small, involving only about 200 cases globally, mostly in the UK. The vCJD epidemic peaked in 2000, and very few cases have occurred in recent years. The epidemics of BSE and vCJD illustrate how newly emerging infectious diseases might become major global public health problems.

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