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

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The Difference between CJD and Other Hazards 

Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease can be seen as a distinctive hazard by the public.  This page examines how variant CJD has been perceived as a hazard; and how this perception differs from 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

 Familiar

 Man-made or from an industrial cause

 Natural

 Unknown impact

 Known impact

Involuntary 

 Voluntary

Third Party Control 

 Personal Control

Irreversible 

Reversible 

 
Explanation

It is possible that variant CJD 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.


A Discussion on the Need to Spend more Money on CJD research in the United Kingdom

In November 2010, one of the latest cases of variant CJD is a man from Bosnia who needs treatment for CJD.  He came to the United Kingdom aged 5 years old to escape from the Bosnian war in 1992. This may suggest that some variant CJD was caused in 1992 or after.  The treatment Pentosan Polisulfate (PPS) is controversial but does seem to offer hope.  This page discusses spending more money on research and treatments for variant CJD.  It has been difficult to show that it is worth spending more money on treatments; given the short life expectancy of a victim of the disease.This leads into a discussion of the rationing of health care in the National Health Service.  Such rationing is bound to be necessary for unavoidable diseases as the country has limited resources.  However, BSE and variant CJD could have been avoided.  Debates about the rationing of variant CJD treatments should not be necessary.


If policy makers in agriculture and health had thought through the consequences of people acquiring variant CJD then this tragedy could have been avoided.   In general, policymakers need to focus on preventative policies which reduce the need for health services and health rationing later on.  Another, hidden tragedy is that money has been spent on an avoidable disease, variant CJD, which could have been spent on other unavoidable illnesses. 


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Christopher Packham,
9 Nov 2010, 12:25
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