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Common questions about CJD

Can you catch it from somebody?

CJD does not spread from person to person. It is not a catching disease like measles or mumps. Peaople who look after, handle, sleep with, or eat off the same plates as sufferers of the condition do not get CJD any more frequently than members of the general public. Indeed, doctors and nurses who would be expected to come into contact with people with the disease are not more likely to develop CJD.

Why did my friend/relative get it?

A number of cases have occurred in particular circumstances, all with a logical explanation, apart from theseno one knows what actually causes the condition.

(i) Some people who had recieved treatment with human growth hormone developed Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease. In the past, growth hormone was obtained from the pituitary glands (a small gland at the base of the brain) of people who had died. It is suspected that one or more of the people from whom the glands were obtained had died of CJD. Since 1985 the hormone has been made artificially and there are now no risks of acquiring the disease this way.

(ii) A few cases were described in people who had contracted the disease after recieving corneal transplants (where the clear part at the front of the eye is taken after death and used to replace that of someone else's that has become damaged), or other human tissue. Again the explanation was that the tissue had come from someone with CJD. Since then, no organs or tissues of any type are taken from victims of CJD for use in donation.

(iii) Three cases occurred in people who had undergone brain surgery.It was shown that someone with CJD had been operated on earlier in the same day and the same surgical instrument had been used, and presumably this was how the infection was transferred from one patient to another. It has been standard practice since then to ensure that any instruments used on a patient suffering from CJD either be destroyed, or go through an extensive sterilization process.

Is the sufferer in pain?

Individuals with CJD may sometimes feel discomfort from for example, sitting in one position too long, but there is no pain associated with the disease itself. The most distress is felt by those who know them, as they see a loved one so seriously ill.

What is being done to investigate the disease at present?

Throughout the world much research is being carried out to try to find the cause of CJD. The Department of Health in England has set up nationwide surveys to identify all new cases. The survey aims to identify any common factors which might link the victims of the disease.