To date, there have been no confirmed cases of variant CJD in Australia. BSE has not been found in livestock in Australia.
It is thought that CJD is caused by infectious proteins in the brain known as prions. Prions are remarkably resistant to conventional sterilisation and disinfectant techniques.
CJD is not contagious in the ways pertaining to viruses and bacteria and therefore cannot be transmitted from person to person by normal contact. Nursing a CJD patient or kissing a loved one with CJD does not pose any risk of transmission.
Variant CJD is the only form of CJD where there is evidence that transmission can occur through exposure to blood and blood products.
There is presently no test available to detect CJD prior to the onset of symptoms.
Autopsy results provide a definite diagnosis of CJD or other prion disease and can rule out that the patient was suffering with variant CJD (Mad Cow disease). Autopsy results cannot confirm if the patient was suffering with sporadic CJD or a genetic form of prion disease.
Most forms of genetic CJD are impossible to differentiate from sporadic CJD and it is not until a gene test is done that a genetic cause can be established or ruled out.
Once a gene test has confirmed that a patient has sporadic CJD then family members have the same chance of developing CJD as the general population; 1 to 2 in a million per head of population per year.