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Classic CJD versus Variant CJD

The variant form of CJD should not be confused with the classic form of CJD that is endemic throughout the world, including the United States. There are several important differences between these two forms of the disease. The median age at death of patients with classic CJD in the United States, for example, is 68 years, and very few cases occur in persons under 30 years of age. In contrast, the median age at death of patients with vCJD in the United Kingdom is 28 years.

vCJD can be confirmed only through examination of brain tissue obtained by biopsy or at autopsy, but a "probable case" of vCJD can be diagnosed on the basis of clinical criteria developed in the United Kingdom. The incubation period for vCJD is unknown because it is a new disease. However, it is likely that ultimately this incubation period will be measured in terms of many years or decades. In other words, whenever a person develops vCJD from consuming a BSE-contaminated product, he or she likely would have consumed that product many years or a decade or more earlier.

In contrast to classic CJD, vCJD in the United Kingdom predominantly affects younger people, has atypical clinical features, with prominent psychiatric or sensory symptoms at the time of clinical presentation and delayed onset of neurologic abnormalities, including ataxia within weeks or months, dementia and myoclonus late in the illness, a duration of illness of at least 6 months, and a diffusely abnormal non-diagnostic electroencephalogram.

The characteristic neuropathologic profile of variant CJD includes, in both the cerebellum and cerebrum, numerous kuru-type amyloid plaques surrounded by vacuoles and prion protein (PrP) accumulation at high concentration indicated by immunohistochemical analysis.

Recently published data indicate that the epidemic of variant CJD in the United Kingdom may have already reached a peak. A listing of monthly updated numbers of CJD and variant CJD cases in the United Kingdom.