Mad Cow Disease - From Human Remains

Scientists link mad cow disease to funerals on the Ganges


PARIS : The epidemic of mad cow disease that struck Europe originated in exports of animal feed and bones from Sough Asia that included human remains scavenged from the river Ganges, according to a paper to be published in The Lancet Sept. 3 2005

The controversial hypothesis, made in the prestigious medical
journal, is put forward by a pair of British experts in health and
veterinary science.

They say they have strong but circumstantial evidence that the crisis was initiated by bones and animal parts exported to Britain from the Indian subcontinent from the 1950s to the `70s, either in animal feed or as material for processing into feed and fertilizer.

These exports included remains from partly burned corpses that
floated down the Ganges after Hindu funerals, and which may have carried Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), the cousin of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)—mad cow disease.

Billions of dollars have been spent in Europe to try to control BSE, a brain-destroying disease that was first spotted among British cattle in the late 1980s.

Scrapie, BSE and CJD are all illnesses caused by prions, brain
proteins that transform themselves into infectious agents. There have been 181 recorded cases of this fatal disorder, which has been named variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease ( vCJD).

The controversial view is that BSE began when British farmers used cattle feed that contained the remains of ground-up cows or sheep that had been sick with the disease.

This way, the prions were transmitted to cows and later infected
humans who ate contaminated beef.

But the new hypothesis turns this theory on its head. It says, in
effect, that humans contaminated cows rather than the other
way `round.

And, it suggests, the source for the contamination originated decades ago, in partly burned human corpses or remains that were scavenged from the Ganges and added to exports of animal meal and bones.

“Human remains are known to be incorporated into meal made locally [ on the Indian sub-continent ] and may still be entering inexported material.”

The paper was written by Alan Colchester, a professor of medicine and health sciences at the University of Kent, and his daughter Nancy Colchester of the College of Medicine and Veterinary Science at the University of Edinburgh.

Their hypothesis is backed by a long list of evidence about the
pollution of the Ganges from human corpses; the inclusion of human remains in material used in processing mills, scavenged by local peasants to supplement their income.

The Indian National CJD Registry recorded only 69 cases of CJD
between 1968 and 1997, however, Prof. Colchester believes there was substantial under-reporting and estimates the true figure to be closer to 150 cases a year.

In a rebuttal, also published in The Lancet, Indian neurologists
Susarla Shanka and P. Satishchandra of the National Institute of
Mental Health & Neurosciences in Bangalore, say the Colchesters’
evidence is not a smoking gun.

They note the incidence of prion disease is no higher in India than
elsewhere and no study has ever been done to establish whether
putrified human tissue taken from the Ganges contains prion disease or if the disease could be transmissible.
Agence France-Presse, with files from the Daily Telegraph

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