Variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease



It is believed that vCJD is caused by proteins called prions. Prions are normal proteins in the body. These prions may fold up in a way that is not normal. This can change them into the protein that causes the illness. The buildup of these prions may be linked to vCJD.

The Nervous System
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Risk Factors

Variant CJD is more common in younger people. Being around tissue that contains prions may raise the risk. This may happen from:

  • Eating beef from infected cows
  • Getting a blood transfusion from a person who had the disease



After a person is exposed, it can take up to 20 years until they feel sick. Problems get worse over time and include:

  • Early phase (0 to 6 months)—mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety , withdrawal, memory problems, and trouble speaking
  • Middle phase—nervous system problems, such as difficulty with walking and coordination, muscle jerking and stiffness, and a hard time speaking
  • Late phase—being unable to talk or move


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

These tests may be done to learn more about the brain:

  • Blood tests
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) to record the electrical activity of the brain
  • to test the fluid that protects the brain and spinal cord

Images may be taken with:

  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • SPECT scan

The only way to diagnose vCJD is for a doctor to look at the brain after a person has died.



There is no cure for vCJD. You will receive support and help easing discomfort.


The risk of this problem may be lowered by not eating beef products when traveling to places where BSE is a problem.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.