- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

TOKYO (AP) — The man with Japan’s first recorded case of mad cow disease probably contracted it during a monthlong visit to Britain in 1989, authorities said yesterday.

The confirmation — which was revealed after the man died of the brain-wasting disease in December — is likely to further alarm a public skittish about food safety, and probably will complicate U.S. efforts to lift Tokyo’s yearlong ban on American beef imports.

It was “highly likely” that the man, who was not identified for privacy reasons, may have eaten contaminated meat during his stay in Britain, where most such human infections have occurred, said Masahito Yamada, an expert from a Health Ministry panel on the disease.

He also said the man had no history of receiving blood transfusions — another way the disease can be transmitted.

Humans are thought to contract the disease by eating infected beef.

But the panel’s head, Tetsuyuki Kitamoto, said, “We cannot completely rule out that the patient may have contracted the disease in Japan.”

The human variant of Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease, known as vCJD, has an incubation period of 10 years or more. A positive diagnosis often does not occur until the patient dies and can undergo autopsy.

The ministry said the man first began to show signs of the disease in late 2001, when he was in his 40s. He became bedridden, unable to move or talk, and died in December.

The public’s sensitivity to food safety has made Tokyo deal cautiously with top ally Washington about reopening its market to American beef imports, which has been shut out since the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in December 2003.

Yesterday’s confirmation could further complicate those negotiations.

“Japan and the United States are negotiating on the basis of scientific consultations,” the government’s spokesman, Hiroyuki Hosoda, said yesterday. “Future examinations will reflect that.”

Tokyo has frustrated U.S. efforts to pry open its market, demanding Washington take measures as strict as the ones it developed since Japan’s first case of mad cow disease in 2001. Washington has called some of those measures unreasonable.

Last month, Japanese and U.S. officials said they were nearing a resolution to the dispute that could soon have U.S. beef producers regaining limited access to what was once their most lucrative overseas market, worth $1.7 billion in 2003.

News of the man’s death, however, was likely to stoke public concern about mad cow disease.

“While watching the news on TV, I thought this will psychologically affect Japanese consumers to shun eating beef,” said Sotetsu Takeyama, a sociology professor at Kyoto’s Ryukoku University.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman said the development will not affect discussions on resuming U.S. beef imports.

The Health Ministry stressed that, under normal circumstances, the disease is not transmitted between humans, and there was little worry of secondary infections.

Human infections have been confirmed or deemed probable in 167 other persons worldwide, virtually all of them in Britain, but also in France, the United States, Ireland, Italy and Canada — although hundreds of thousands of people have likely eaten contaminated beef products.

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