Read The full effects of mad cow disease BSE will remain unexplained, according to researchers. "It will be decades before we know what BSE does to humans, " said Robert Will of the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh on Tuesday at the World Congress on Biological Psychiatry in Berlin. Estimates of how many cases of the new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) could be triggered by BSE are correspondingly far-reaching. According to projections, 70 to 136, 000 vCJD cases were initially expected for Great Britain due to the BSE epidemic. "The 70 has already passed, " said Will. In the UK, 102 cases have been diagnosed so far. In France, there are 3 vCJD cases, none of them would ever have visited Britain. Ireland and Hong Kong each had one case, with the Hong Kong citizen in the UK for several years. In Germany, experts expect up to 15 vCJD cases from the BSE crisis.

Meanwhile, the opinion has prevailed among the scientists that the mad cow disease is triggered by an infectious prion, said Konrad Maurer of the Institute of Psychiatry, University of Frankfurt am Main. The theory of BSE as a viral disease will not be pursued. Why harmless proteins turn into dangerous prions is still unclear.

Several hundreds of psychiatrists gathered information about BSE and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease at the congress. The vast majority of CJD sufferers showed neurological symptoms in the early stages, such as depression, restlessness and withdrawal, emphasized Herbert Budka from the University of Vienna.

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