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Scientist uses computer to test for early dementia
Important new BSE epidemic estimates published
Dermatitis blamed on cows
Dutch slaughter 5 million diseased pigs

Scientist uses computer to test for Alzheimer's

 July 31, 1997  Reuter Information Service
LONDON - A British neuropsychologist is using a computer to determine whether slight memory loss is just a sign of old age or an early indication of Alzheimer's disease, "New Scientist" magazine reported Thursday. Joanna Iddon of Cambridge University is evaluating patients with a simple computer touchscreen test.

The Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery, or CANTAB, is designed to evaluate different areas of the brain and the mental abilities associate with them. "It a bit like a computer game," Iddon, who has been using CANTAB for five years, told the magazine. During the "Delayed Matching to Sample" test patients are shown four images which then vanish from the screen and reappear after a short time lapse ranging from 0-12 seconds.

"The computer records how long it takes a patient to recognise the matching image. Declining performance in this test is one of the first indications of Alzheimer's," New Scientist said.
Patients with other illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, another degenerative brain disorder, are evaluated with different computer tests. Iddon said patients quickly get bored doing the standard paper neurological tests, which she claims are not very accurate, but seem to enjoy the computer tests.

Alzheimer's is an incurable form of dementia but New Scientist said the CANTAB test can help to asses the effectiveness of different treatments because the results can be seen quickly. CeNeS, the company that owns CANTAB, claims the test can detect neurological changes linked to the disease in only six months.

Dermatitis due to cows

Lancet  Aug 1, 1997
Some children with atopic (allergic) dermatitis are allergic to cow's milk and get better when this is excluded from their diet. Dr Szczepanski and Professor von M‰hlendahl from Osnabr‰ck, Germany, report, in a Research Letter to this week's Lancet, five children who were allergic to cows.

The first patient was a 10-month-old boy who was admitted to hospital with severe atopic dermatitis and breathlessness. He improved in hospital but a few days after he was taken home, his grandfather came in from the cowshed in his working clothes and cuddled him. The baby started coughing, became very breathless, and came out in a rash. He was readmitted to hospital as an emergency.

Investigations showed that he was allergic to cow dander the scales of skin and bits of hair that all animals shed. Tests suggested that he was also allergic to cow's milk, but excluding milk from his diet did not help and when he was last seen, at the age of 25 months, he was drinking milk without any ill effects.

Allergy to cow dander is known to be a cause of asthma in farm workers, but has not been reported before as a cause of atopic dermatitis. After his experience with this patient, the doctors looked for allergy to cows in other children who came to the clinic with atopic dermatitis and soon found four more with allergy to cows. The parents of two of them were cattle farmers, and of the other two, a parent was a veterinary surgeon.

The authors conclude, "It is important to consider cow dander as a possible cause of atopic dermatitis in children; the elimination of this allergen can be helpful."

Contact: Professor Karl Ernst v M‰hlendahl, Kinderhospital, Osnabr‰ck, Germany; tel +49 541 56020

New BSE epidemic estimates published

28 Jul 1997  News Release Royal Society
"New insight into the BSE epidemic has been provided by two papers published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society on 29 July.. The research was carried out by a team from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Epidemiology of Infectious Disease, Oxford University, led by Professor Roy Anderson FRS. The new analysis shows that the epidemic is in a phase of rapid decline, confirming the team's earlier predictions, and explore the strong clustering of cases seen in particular regions and cattle herds.

[The analysis seems to address only numbers of clinically ill cows which is quite different from the infectious titre in carrier animals. The number of animals reported by farmers to have BSE is very much influenced by the level of government compensation, which was dropped dramatically this week. -- webmaster] The first paper, by Dr Christl Donnelly, subjects the BSE epidemic to the most detailed statistical analysis of the case data performed to date. By analysing the nature of the clustering of cases seen, this work shows how targeting animals most at risk can improve the efficiency of culling policies designed to hasten the elimination of BSE. The second paper, by Dr Neil Ferguson, describes the results of computer simulations of the key processes determining the pattern of the BSE epidemic. The simulations involve mathematical simulations that take account of potential maternal and horizontal transmission of BSE, as well as infection through contaminated animal feed. Exhaustive testing of the models confirms the team's earlier predictions (reported in Nature in August 1996) of approximately 7000 cases of BSE in Great Britain between 1997 and 2001. Furthermore, the number of cases that were diagnosed in 1996 proved to be remarkably close to the team's predictions."

Mad cow disease on decline, studies show

 Reuters World Report Tue, Jul 29, 1997 By Maggie Fox
LONDON - Britain's epidemic of mad cow disease (BSE) is in rapid decline and should die out within 10 years, researchers said on Tuesday. Careful analysis of the epidemic showed a little targeted culling could help end it even sooner, the experts wrote in a report in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Britain's national academy of sciences.

Neil Ferguson, Roy Anderson and colleagues at Oxford University said their models showed earlier predictions that the epidemic would be largely over by 2005 were correct. They said there would be about 7,000 cases of BSE between now and 2001. They predict the epidemic will peter out soon after that, with as few as 89 cases in 2001, and 1,012 cases if cattle can pass BSE to one another within herds.

Even if this did happen -- and the researchers do not believe it will -- it would not be enough to sustain the epidemic. Nor would the estimated 10 percent cow-to-calf transmission rate. "Maternal transmission alone can never sustain an epidemic," they stressed. Christl Donnelly, one of the researchers, said the epidemic would be virtually over by 2005.

"We are still projecting that we will reach very low levels by then, even in the absence of culling," she said in a telephone interview.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) first broke out in British herds in 1986. Scientists think it was caused by feeding the carcasses of sheep that died from scrapie, a related brain disease, to cattle. This was banned in 1988, but scientists think cattle still ate infected feed for several years after that.

More than 167,000 cases of BSE in cattle were confirmed by the end of May this year. Last week the government said there had been 1,480 new cases so far this year, a 56 percent drop from last year. Last year scientists identified a new strain of the brain-wasting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in people and said eating BSE-infected beef was the likely cause. The European Union slapped an immediate ban on British beef.

Donnelly's team estimates that meat from about 750,000 infected animals were eaten by people. She stressed it was still too soon to know if a CJD epidemic would mirror the BSE one -- 17 cases have been reported so far -- but said it was probably now safe to eat British beef. Britain has been trying to wipe out BSE and 1.4 million cows over the age of 30 months have been slaughtered. Donnelly said clusters of BSE had been identified and careful culling could help wipe out the most likely pockets of infection.

"The current epidemic decline in the BSE epidemic and the absolute ban on the use of cattle over 30 months of age in food production, together with the earlier (ban on using animal parts on cattle feed), are likely to have greatly reduced any human exposure to BSE in recent years," the group wrote.

Dutch swine fever spreads

Reuter Information Service July 17, 1997
THE HAGUE ( 7:57 p.m. EDT) - The Dutch farm ministry Thursday confirmed it had discovered the first case of swine fever far outside the previously-affected area in the south of the country. The new case, the 339th since the latest outbreak was first discovered back in February, is in the southeastern province of Gelderland in a region not known for its pig production.
"This is the first case north of the river Waal, and that's why there's so much commotion about it. But we've introduced stricter than normal measures," a ministry spokesman said.
He said a ban on livestock and manure transport in an area 20 kilometers around the farm had been imposed, in which there would be preventative slaughtering of pigs. All the previous cases of swine fever have been in the southern province of Brabant, which borders on Belgium, where cases of the disease have also been detected recently. The whole swine fever epidemic has led to authorities killing more than five million pigs in the Netherlands at an estimated cost so far of some 1.3 billion guilders. Most of the bill has been financed by the European Union. Many countries including the United States have banned the import of Dutch live pigs and pork meat over fears the highly infectious disease will spread. It is not harmful to humans.

The inability of the government to control the spread of the disease has led to plans for a radical shake-up of the whole sector. Farm Minister Jozias van Aartsen has said he want to cut the Dutch pig population by 25 percent by next year.

"The current crisis, caused by the outbreak of swine fever, has exposed once again the vulnerability of the sector," he told parliament last week. He said a restructuring process should result " a better, but by definition smaller, sector in which the largest part of the added product value will be realised in the Netherlands."

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