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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Dentists are being told tonight to be extra vigilant"
 real 56k

British Dental Association chairman, Dr John Renshaw
"What is being discussed here is a theoretical possibility"
 real 56k

Professor Rod Griffiths, public health director
"This is something that has never happened"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 00:34 GMT 01:34 UK
CJD dentistry fears played down
Dental equipment
No cases of dental equipment transmitting vCJD
The government has moved to allay fears that the human form of mad cow disease can be transmitted during dental surgery.

Scientists said there was a theoretical risk that variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) could be passed on by contaminated surgical instruments used in dentistry.

But there has not been a single case in the UK of a case of the disease being transmitted by surgical instrument in the UK.

A Department of Health spokesman said dentists had already been given clear guidance on the need to clean and sterilise their instrument to minimise risks of cross-infection.


Sterilisation does not completely inactivate the agent that causes the disease

Peter Smith, Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee
He said the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), who highlighted the potential risk, was simply reiterating previous Department of Health advice.

The SEAC, a group of government scientists set up to monitor variant-CJD, had warned that sterilisation does not completely destroy the agent that causes the disease.

Dr Peter Smith, SEAC acting chairman, said: "There is a theoretical risk of person-to-person transmission of the disease (from dentistry).

"Sterilisation does not completely inactivate the agent that causes the disease."

Risk assessment

Dr Smith called for a full theoretical risk assessment and further analysis of oral tissue from vCJD patients to improve knowledge of the risk.

But dentists are not being asked to destroy their medical instruments until further studies proof that parts connected to the tooth can carry the infectious agent.

The SEAC said last month that incidence of the deadly human form of BSE in Britain was increasing by a "statistically significant" 20% to 30% a year.

Dr Smith said that latest figures show a total of 77 "definite" and "probable" cases of the disease had been identified in Britain. Eight of those patients are still alive.

Last month the government launched an urgent inquiry into a cluster of CJD deaths around the small village of Queniborough in Leicestershire.

Three of the four victims died within weeks of each other and all lived within a close radius.

The Department of Health ordered tests of more than 10,000 tonsils and appendices removed since 1985 to find out how many people in Leicestershire have contracted the disease.

Many scientists believe humans contract the disease by eating meat from cattle infected with bovine spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

Dr John Renshaw, chairman of the executive board of the British Dental Association, said: "Dentists are advised to continue to use universal infection control procedures for all patients.

"At this stage there is nothing extra that they can do. The SEAC chairman was today merely re-emphasising existing advice.

"We will of course be monitoring the situation closely."

Dr Renshaw will answer your questions later on Wednesday.

You can write to him at Talkingpoint@bbc.co.uk

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