Most people haven’t heard of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but it is actually one of the most lethal diseases in existence. Even though Creutzfeldt-Jakob may not affect everyone, it is important to be aware of it.

CJD disease is a neurodegenerative disorder. It is known as the human form of mad cow disease. It affects about one person out of a million people every year, making it rare but fatal. CJD leads to dementia and affects mainly older adults above the age of 60.

CJD is a rapidly progressive disease with symptoms that resemble those of other brain disorders with rapid mental deterioration, such as:

• Problems with muscular co-ordination
• Depression
• Anxiety
• Changes in personality
• Impaired thinking
• Loss of memory
• Insomnia
• Difficulty speaking
• Difficulty swallowing food
• Blurry vision and even blindness
• Muscles jerks

The worst symptoms include coma, heart failure, pneumonia, respiratory problems and other infections that may lead to the eventual death of  the patient. CJD is caused by a kind of protein called prion, which is not usually harmful, but sometimes gets distorted and becomes infectious.

CJD is not transmitted through physical contact, sneezing or coughing. There are three major ways of developing CJD:

Sporadically: Most of the reported CJD cases are developed spontaneously, with no apparent reason. Such CJDs are called sporadic CJD.

Genetically: A genetic mutation or a family history of CJD can be the causal factor for some cases of CJD. CJD caused by family inheritance is called familial CJD.

Iatrogenically: A few cases of CJD are caused through contamination. Exposure to infected human tissue during a medical procedure, such as a cornea or skin transplant, can cause CJD in a person. Contaminated instruments and other medical procedures that cause CJD are known as iatrogenic CJD.

There is no known cure or approved treatment for CJD, however some forms of the disease can be prevented. Sporadic CJD cannot be prevented as its cause is unknown. A genetic counsellor can help you prevent familial CJD. Medical establishments follow some guidelines that help prevent iatrogenic CJD, such as avoiding using any human growth hormone obtained from the pituitary glands of dead CJD patients, disposing of the surgical instruments used for CJD surgeries, and using single-use kits for lumbar punctures. Furthermore, people who are at risk of or have signs of CJD are not allowed to donate blood or sperm, in order to prevent the spread of CJD.