Human form of mad cow disease claims first U.S. victim

MIAMI, Florida, June 22, 2004 (ENS): A 25 year old Florida woman who was diagnosed with the United States' first documented case of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), died of the disease on Sunday. Invariably fatal, the brain wasting disease is the human form of mad cow disease and is contracted by eating infected beef, or possibly through blood transfusions.
In April 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that Charlene Singh was the first vCJD found in the United States. Singh was born in England in 1979; her family moved to the United States in 1992. She is believed to have gotten the disease when she lived in England.

Her condition only began to appear after she graduated from the University of Miami in May 2001 with a business degree. After her diagnosis, she was given three months to live.

Through their research on the Internet, Singh's family learned about the successful treatment of vCJD in the UK with a drug called quinacrine, commonly used to treat psychosis. Singh tried the drug for three months, but it had no noticeable effect.

More successful was hyperbaric therapy, which she was first given in October 2002, and received ever since. She was put in a pressurized oxygen chamber four times a week, which helped to increase the oxygen supply to her blood.

Charlene's father Patrick Singh said his family no longer eats meat. His two other children have not contracted the brain disease.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known as mad cow disease, surfaced in the UK in 1986 and has affected nearly 200,000 cattle. Fewer and fewer cows are infected today, but now there is an outbreak of human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, resulting from the consumption of beef products contaminated by infected bovine central nervous system tissue.

Averaging 10 to 15 cases a year in the UK since its first appearance in 1994, the future magnitude and geographic distribution of vCJD cannot yet be predicted, Florida health officials say.

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