The identification of a patient who died from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of “mad cow disease”, in Houston last year demonstrates the need for continued global tracking and awareness of the prion disorder, said an international consortium of physicians and public health experts led by those at Baylor College of Medicine. The report appeared online in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The case at a local hospital was the fourth to be confirmed in the United States so far, said Dr. Atul Maheshwari, assistant professor in the departments of neurology and neuroscience at Baylor and first author of the report, who cared for the patient. The disease first emerged in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996, where it was linked to contaminated beef. The first three U.S. cases were also thought to have occurred because the patients ate beef while in the United Kingdom or Saudi Arabia, which acquired much of its beef from the United Kingdom.

The patient had lived in the United States for 14 years before becoming ill. While he had never visited the United Kingdom, France or Saudi Arabia, he had lived in Kuwait, Lebanon and Russia—all of which imported UK beef during the time that the disease was at its greatest.

Maheshwari believes that the patient was exposed to the contaminated beef outside the United States more than a decade before he became sick. There is also no evidence that this patient transmitted the disease to anyone else.

“This article will alert physicians to the possibility that patients might have this illness, even though they were exposed over 10 years ago,” he said.

Others who took part in this research include Alicia Parker, Aarthi Ram, Clay Goodman and Joseph S. Kass, all of Baylor; Michael Fischer of Texas Department of State Health Services: Pierluigi Gambetti and Yvonne Cohen of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio; Claudio Soto and Luis Concha-Marambio of The University of Texas Medical School at Houston; Ermias D. Belay, Ryan A. Maddox and Lawrence B. Schonberger of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia; Simon Mead of the London Institute of Neurology in the United Kingdom; and Haitham M. Hussein of HealthPartners Clinics & Services in St. Paul, Minnesota.