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Mad Cow Disease Claims 1st Canadian Victim - 2002-08-09

The human form of mad cow disease, an incurable, brain-wasting illness that's killed more than 100 people in Britain, has claimed its first Canadian victim.

Canadian health officials confirmed Thursday that the unidentified man died sometime this summer. The man, who lived in the western province of Saskatchewan, contracted the disease from eating contaminated meat while traveling in Britain.

Dr. Antonio Giulivi, an official with the government agency Health Canada, quickly moved to calm fears by assuring the public the disease had not entered the Canadian food supply. "All evidence and I repeat all evidence points to the person having acquired variant CJD, this disease from multiple stays, long term stays in the UK," he said.

The variant of the cow-killing illness, known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, is believed to be caused when ground parts of diseased cattle are mixed into cattle feed and those cows are turned into processed meats for human consumption. Though the disease cannot be confirmed until an autopsy is performed on the dead brain, symptoms of human infection include uncontrolled shaking, dementia and finally paralysis.

But while government officials insisted safeguards are in place to keep the disease out of Canadian meat, warnings were issued to 71 patients at the hospital where the infected man was treated before his illness was identified. Those patients had been treated with the same medical instruments used on the diseased man. Though the instruments were cleaned and disinfected, officials said a theoretical possibility remains that those people could have been infected.

News of the death initially sent Canadian restaurant stocks into a tailspin, but most of them recovered by the end of the trading session.