Background Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. Genetic and iatrogenic forms have been recognised but most are sporadic and of unknown cause. We have studied risk factors for CJD as part of the 1993-95 European Union collaborative studies of CJD in Europe.
Methods The 405 patients with definite or probable CJD who took part in our study had taken part in population-based studies done between 1993 and 1995 in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK. Data on putative risk factors from these patients were compared with data from 405 controls.
Findings We found evidence for familial aggregation of CJD with dementia due to causes other than CJD (relative risk [RR] 2.26, 95% CI 1.31-3.90). No significant increased risk of CJD in relation to a history of surgery and blood tranfusion was shown. There was no evidence for an association between the risk of CJD and the consumption of beef, veal, lamb, cheese, or milk. No association was found with occupational exposure to animals or leather. The few positive findings of the study include increased risk in relation to consumption of raw meat (RR 1.63 [95% CI 1.18-2.23]) and brain (1.68 [1.18-2.39]), frequent exposure to leather products (1.94 [1.13-3.33]), and exposure to fertiliser consisting of hoofs and horns (2.32 [1.38-2.91]). Additional analyses, for example stratification by country and of exposures pre-1985 and post-1985, suggest that these results should be interpreted with great caution.
Interpretation Within the limits of the retrospective design of the study, our findings suggest that genetic factors other than the known CJD mutations may play an important part in CJD.Iatrogenic transmission of disease seems rare in this large population-based sample of patients with CJD. There is little evidence for an association between the risk of CJD and either animal exposure, or consumption of processed bovine meat or milk products for the period studied.