HC Deb 16 March 2000 vol 346 cc301-2W
Mr. Harvey

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what steps his Department takes to monitor the way coroners and pathologists(a) handle issues of contact between grieving relatives and deceased victims of CJD and (b) implement relevant Government guidelines; [114317]

(2) what assessment his Department has made as to whether new variant CJD can be contracted by means other than ingestion; [114315]

(3) what guidelines his Department has issued to coroners and pathologists concerning superficial contact between (a) grieving relatives and (b) bodies of deceased victims of CJD. [114316]

Yvette Cooper

The Department gets feedback from patient groups. The Human Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Foundation, a voluntary organisation run by families of variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD) patients and funded by the Department, brought to our attention that some families had been caused unnecessary distress by inappropriate restrictions placed on them regarding funeral arrangements.

The Department has recently reminded coroners, pathologists and others of the extant guidance from the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) and the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) (published in April 1998) in relation to contact with those who have died from CJD.

The guidance states that there is no need for special precautions to be taken for either burial or cremation (where the risk is described as likely to be negligible), and that superficial contact, such as touching the face, need not be discouraged. The reminder was sent to:

  • Pathologists
  • The Coroners Association
  • Consultants in Communicable Disease Control
  • Local Authorities
  • Funeral Directors' professional associations
  • Morticians.

SEAC's view is that the most likely explanation of vCJD cases to date is exposure to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). However, we do not know the route of infection.

The ACDP/SEAC guidance states that available epidemiological evidence suggests that normal social or routine clinical contact with a CJD patient does not represent a risk to healthcare workers, relatives and the community. The National Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease Surveillance Unit continues to gather and analyse data on dietary, occupational and medical history on vCJD cases to identify any common risk factors. So far none have emerged.