Yikes. So, a 59-year-old San Rafael woman died in recent weeks of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a.k.a. mad-cow disease, and a second woman in Marin County has been diagnosed with it. According to ABC 7, there is no known connection between the two women, however cases of the disease have been so rare that the proximity of two cases like this is cause for some intrigue, if not panic just yet.

So far it's all conjecture when it comes to finding the source of the first victim's infection. The woman, Aline Shaw, lived in England in 1990 when the last real epidemic of the disease broke out there. There have only ever been three known cases of mad-cow in humans in the United States, and in all three cases the victims were thought to have contracted the disease while out of the country. The disease can be dormant for years or decades, but always results in death.

Humans contract what's called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease by eating contaminated meat. It is not yet known whether the two Marin victims have/had the variant or non-variant form (the latter only being contractable via contaminated instruments in brain surgery, or through genetic mutation).

We should know more as these two cases are looked into further, and as state medical detectives become involved. Don't panic just yet.

Update: Lab tests released Thursday reveal that in at least one of the women's cases, it was not mad-cow but rather non-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob, which can be inherited or which can arise via genetic mutation, and is always fatal. There are about 300 such cases in the state each year, and they have nothing to do with the food supply. So, yes, panic averted. Not sure why the news media got us all excited in this case thinking it was actual mad-cow. Go on about your day. [Chron]

[ABC 7]
[Marin IJ]