Contagious: Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease


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About contagion: Contagion and contagiousness refers to how easily the spread of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is possible from one person to another. Other words for contagion include "infection", "infectiousness", "transmission" or "transmissability". Contagiousness has nothing to do with genetics or inheriting diseases from parents. For an overview of contagion, see Introduction to Contagion.

Contagion summary: Not generally contagious. Not even by blood transfusion. Very rarely by direct brain contagion such as in brain surgery or organ transplants; see contagion of prion diseases.

Contagion summary: While CJD can be transmitted to other people, the risk of this happening is extremely small. 1

Contagion discussion: CJD is not a contagious disease. Although it can be transmitted to other people, the risk of this happening is extremely small. CJD cannot be transmitted through the air or through touching or most other forms of casual contact. Spouses and other household members of sporadic CJD patients have no higher risk of contracting the disease than the general population. However, direct or indirect contact with brain tissue and spinal cord fluid from infected patients should be avoided to prevent transmission of the disease through these materials.

In a few very rare cases, CJD has spread to other people from grafts of dura mater (a tissue that covers the brain), transplanted corneas, implantation of inadequately sterilized electrodes in the brain, and injections of contaminated pituitary growth hormone derived from human pituitary glands taken from cadavers. Doctors call these cases that are linked to medical procedures iatrogenic cases. Since 1985, all human growth hormone used in the United States has been synthesized by recombinant DNA procedures, which eliminates the risk of transmitting CJD by this route.

The appearance of the new variant of CJD (nv-CJD or v-CJD) in several younger than average people in Great Britain and France has led to concern that BSE may be transmitted to humans through consumption of contaminated beef. Although laboratory tests have shown a strong similarity between the prions causing BSE and v-CJD, there is no direct proof to support this theory. Furthermore, BSE has never been found in the United States, and importation of cattle and beef from countries with BSE has been banned in the United States since 1989 to reduce the risk that it will occur in this country.

Many people are concerned that it may be possible to transmit CJD through blood and related blood products such as plasma. Some animal studies suggest that contaminated blood and related products may transmit the disease, although this has never been shown in humans. If there are infectious agents in these fluids, they are probably in very low concentrations. Scientists do not know how many abnormal prions a person must receive before he or she develops CJD, so they do not know whether these fluids are potentially infectious or not. They do know that, even though millions of people receive blood transfusions each year, there are no reported cases of someone contracting CJD from a transfusion. Even among hemophiliacs, who sometimes receive blood plasma concentrated from thousands of people, there are no reported cases of CJD. This suggests that, if there is a risk of transmitting CJD through blood or plasma, it is extremely small. 2

There is no evidence that CJD is transmitted through casual contact or sexual intercourse. Spouses of patients with CJD are not at increased risk. With the exception of genetic forms of CJD, children of patients with CJD are not at increased risk for getting the disease. A pregnant mother does not transmit CJD to her child. The type of CJD associated with growth hormone treatment does not cause genetic changes and would not be passed on to future generations. 3

Doctors and blood bank officials agree that the risk, if any, of CJD being transmitted by blood transfusions is extremely small. Because there is no test to detect CJD infection before symptoms occur, officials want to prevent even remote risks to the safety of the Nation's blood supply. For this reason, blood banks do not collect blood from anyone who was treated with pituitary growth hormone. This does not apply to people treated only with biosynthetic growth hormone, which has been used since 1985. Recently, blood banks stopped taking blood from relatives of patients with CJD. This policy sought to prevent donation by people from families with rare genetic forms of CJD, who might harbor CJD but have no symptoms. Family members of those at risk of CJD because they received growth hormone are not affected by this policy. 3

Footnotes:
1. excerpt from NINDS Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Information Page: NINDS
2. excerpt from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Fact Sheet: NINDS
3. excerpt from Update Follow-Up Study of NHPP Growth Hormone Recipients: NIDDK

Last revision: May 26, 2003

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