Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) belongs to a group of rare diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. These diseases attack the central nervous system and invade the brain. This causes damage and eventual death.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is rare. There is only about one case per 1.5 million people worldwide each year. It is possible, but unlikely, for people to get a form of transmissible spongioform encephalopathy by eating beef from cattle with mad cow disease.
Early symptoms include loss of memory, clumsiness, slurred speech, visual problems and hallucinations. As the illness gets worse, so do mental problems. Symptoms may also include muscle twitches and weakness of the hands, feet and limbs.
Most cases of CJD are sporadic or familial and cannot be prevented. Rarely, CJD has been transmitted in the hospital setting during a surgical procedure. Hospitals routinely use infection control measures to prevent spreading the disease in a hospital setting.
Only a brain biopsy can diagnose CJD definitively. Other tests that can help with diagnosis include blood tests, tests on spinal fluid, tests of brain electrical activity and brain scans.
CJD is a variant form of mad cow disease, which is a severe disease that damages the brain and spinal cord in cattle. It is not a bacteria, virus, parasite or any other infectious agent. Mad cow disease is not known to spread by direct person-to-person contact. People cannot get mad cow disease.