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ct scan alzheimersYet another health scare. Most newspapers reported that the results of a study that reported finding markers for Alzheimers in the brains of some people who died of a different neuro-degenerative disease  CJD [Creutzfeld -Jacob disease].

The Daily Mirror claims “You can catch Alzheimer’s”, while the Mail Online claims that an “explosive new study suggests the disease is spread like CJD and could be passed on through blood transfusions, operations and dental work”. The Times also made similar conclusions.

The study actually clearly stated “There is no suggestion that Alzheimer’s disease is a contagious disease and no supportive evidence … that Alzheimer’s disease is transmissible, notably by blood transfusion”.

Only eight people were involved in the study. They were infected with certain proteins called prions, which cause CJD, through injections of human growth hormone taken from the brains of people who had died. This was stopped in 1985.

None of the eight people studied actually had  Alzheimer’s . During their autopsies, researchers found amyloid beta protein deposits (abnormal clumps of protein), which can be a precursor of Alzheimer’s, in seven people’s brains. The researchers suggest they may have been infected with amyloid proteins – Alzheimer’s “seeds” – in the same way they had been infected with prions-by human growth hormone treatment.

Sometimes I despair at the way science and medicine is reported. I think part of the problem of poor reporting is due to the fact that most journalists have English or other Arts degrees not science degrees and there is a lack understanding, particularly of the difference between causation and association. However exaggerated, frightening headlines are also going to sell more news papers!

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