The New England Journal of Medicine reports the death of a laboratory technician in 2019, who died seven years after a laboratory accident; she contracted Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, better known as mad cow disease.
Emilie H. was dealing with mice when she cut herself on May 30, 2010, in a laboratory in Jouy-en-Josas France. The new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) was used in rodents. The young woman was wearing gloves that were torn during the accident. A few minutes later, she turned to a nurse and her wound was disinfected. The incident was declared a work accident then, but only 7.5 years later In 2017 did Emilie H. start to show symptoms of vCJD. The diagnosis was made in April 2019, and a few months later she died of the disease at the age of 33.
The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) stated that the young woman started to feel pain in her right shoulder and neck as of November 2017. In six months her case got worse and the whole right side of her body was in pain. Since January 2019, she has had hallucinations and memory problems. In April, the disease was diagnosed by the National Reference Centre for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital. According to a publication by the French Association for the Promotion of Science (AFAS), the unit concluded that the origin was compatible with ‘accidental contamination in the workplace’, in particular, due to ‘occupational exposure to a bovine pathogen and/or the causative agent of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease’. The NEJM explains that the clinical characteristics of the patient and the post mortem neuropathological analyses are similar to those of 27 patients suffering from vCJD in France.
The possibility of oral contamination through the consumption of contaminated meat is unlikely in this case, since the last two confirmed cases of vCJD died in 2013 and 2014, long before the first symptoms of the young woman appeared. “Transdermal exposure to material contaminated with prions is plausible in this patient,” explains the scientific journal, “because the strain of prions she was dealing with was compatible with the development of vCJD. The prion is a protein that occurs naturally in the body and can become pathogenic. “The 7.5-year delay between the laboratory accident and its clinical symptoms is consistent with the incubation period for the transmitted transfusion form of the disease,” the scientists added.
In June 2019, the victim’s family filed a lawsuit for “negligent homicide” as reported by BFMTV. It was directed against the National Institute of Agricultural Research, the employer of the young woman at the time of the accident. “There is absolutely no doubt about the direct link between the injury she suffered in 2010 and her death today,” said family lawyer Julien Bensimhon. According to the complaint, the laboratory was not up to standard, the safety equipment was not adequate and there was no medical follow-up after the accident.