Researchers in England studied specimens from appendicectomies and tonsillectomies carried out between 1995 and 1999.
In addition, they examined samples removed at autopsy or during surgery from patients with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
The samples were tested for lymphoreticular accumulation of prion protein, as this is known to be a reliable marker of the disease in animals.
Prion protein was detected in 1 of the 8318 samples removed between 1995 and 1999.
In the appendixes removed before the onset of symptoms in the patients with vCJD, 2 out of 3 tested positive. In the specimens removed at autopsy, the figure was 19 out of 20.
| Prion protein detected in 0.01% of samples from the general population.
| British Medical Journal |
The results give an estimated detectable prevalence of prion protein accumulation of 120 per million.
The margin of error for this figure is high and, in their conclusion, the authors stress the need for large scale screening of tonsil tissue to obtain precise data.
As half of tonsillectomies are in children under 10, who have had little expose to BSE, this opportunity will diminish over time.