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Study: Urine Test Could Tell If People Have Human ‘Mad Cow’ Disease

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Researchers say a urine test could detect the presence of  Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. (MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images)

Researchers say a urine test could detect the presence of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. (MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images)

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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – A urine test may be able to detect traces of a version of “mad cow” disease in humans, reports Live Science.

The urine of people infected with the most severe version of Creutzfeldt-Jakob contain very small amounts of infectious proteins, called prions, that cause the disease.

Normally the prions are present in to small an amount to be detected by laboratory tests. But the researchers used ultrasound waves to speed up the process in which they replicate. This technique allowed the prions grow to a detectable level.

The new test found abnormal prions in the urine of 13 out of 14 people with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a 93 percent success rate.

As an added bonus, the test did not give a positive result for people with other forms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or with other brain diseases.

It is believed that people develop the disease after eating beef contaminated with infectious prions from cattle.

it may be possible to diagnose, or screen for, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, using a simple urine test, the researchers said.

Although only about 230 people in the world have been diagnosed with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, doctors fear there could be carriers unaware that they are affected.

“If there are many people silently incubating this infectious material, they may be infecting other people and causing many more cases,” said study researcher Claudio Soto, a professor of neurology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School.

There is no evidence that Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is contagious through casual contact with an infected person, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

A second study suggests a similar test could be used to diagnose the sporadic form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, where the prions are found only in the brain, so they wouldn’t show up in urine. The second test collects samples from inside the nose, which contains neurons connected to the brain. This nasal test also amplifies prions in a similar way to the test used in Soto’s study, but the nasal test uses shaking instead of ultrasound to accelerate the prion replication. That test showed a 97 percent success rate in detecting sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The studies are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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