Comment: Why variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) is different to other types of hazard.

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Creutzfeldt Jakob disease can be seen in a distinctive way by the public. This page will examine why this is the case.
For the purposes here, we are looking at how variant CJD has been perceived as a hazard.  It can be compared to other more common types of disease such as heart disease (see the table below). 
Table: to show public perceptions of two different hazards
Variant CJD                                                                                Heart Disease

 Possibly caused by a new set of experiments; so unfamiliar


 Man-made or from an industrial cause


 Unknown impact

 Known impact



Third Party Control 

 Personal Control




It is possible that vCJD was caused by a new set of experiments. This is in contrast to heart disease which is a relatively familiar hazard.

Variant CJD can be seen as a man-made disease whereas heart disease could be interpreted as a more natural process associated with ageing.

The impact of variant CJD is unknown, as it is unclear how many cases there will be in the future and over what timescale. In contrast, the impact of heart disease is known about as the symptoms are easier to recognise.

Variant CJD can be seen as an involuntary hazard.  This is particularly the case if baby food or vaccines are causes of vCJD.  This is because a baby or a child would not have a choice over consuming the food or taking the vaccine.  In contrast, heart disease is arguably more of a ‘voluntary’ hazard as it can be influenced by diet which an individual has some control over.

The variant CJD hazard has been influenced, to a large extent, by government and industrial decision-making.  In contrast, heart disease can involve personal control over lifestyle factors such as exercise.

Variant CJD is normally fatal and possible treatments are controversial; the disease does not seem to have been reversed.  In contrast, heart disease treatments are now well developed and include transplants, bypasses and angioplasties.
The factors have been separated in a simple way and the seriousness of heart disease should not be under-stated.  It too can be explained by business or government policies which undermine personal choice.  For example, the public has little control over the amount of sugar that is put into food.  
To read more about perceived risk there is a document available below.
Christopher Packham,
9 Nov 2010, 12:25