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DOH censured for downplaying probable human mad-cow disease death

2011/02/15 18:32:27

Taipei, Feb. 15 (CNA) The Department of Health (DOH) was censuredby the Control Yuan Tuesday for downplaying a probable case of deathfrom Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) last year.

The top government watchdog said the incident indicates that theDOH lacks a flexible mechanism to guide the release of information onmajor diseases.

The way the DOH handled the incident was questionable because itfailed to clear up the truth or disperse people's doubts about thecase, the Control Yuan said.

A Taiwanese man, who lived in the United Kingdom from 1989 to1997, died in May 2010 from what appeared to be CJD, a disease linkedto eating tissue from cattle infected with bovine spongiformencephalopathy, or mad-cow disease.

The patient, who began to show symptoms such as memory loss andhypersomnia, was reported to health authorities as a suspected CJDcase in March 2009.

While the man's family refused to give permission for an autopsy,a medical team determined that it was an "extremely likely case" ofCJD based on his MRI and EEG records.

However, the DOH did not publish the details until Dec. 8, 2010,six months after his death and after the case had been reported bylocal media.

According to the Control Yuan, the DOH chose to gloss over theincident because at the time it was first reported to the healthauthorities in March 2009, Taiwan was negotiating sensitive beeftrade issues with the United States.

An investigation by the Control Yuan shows that the DOH nevernotified the National Security Council -- which was leading theTaiwan-U.S. beef trade talks -- about the suspected CJD case.

This gave people the impression that the DOH's decision onwhether to release disease information was based solely on "politicalconsiderations," the Control Yuan said.

(By Sophia Yeh and Y.F. Low)