Sunday, March 09, 2008

Nineteenth Sunday Salon 21.26

Finished THE FAMILY THAT COULDN'T SLEEP now. It's an inspiring read and a very satisfying one. It is also terrifying. The British government does not come out very well.

In the eighties and the early part of the nineties the Hodmandods were not particularly affluent. Some of the time we were students and the rest of the time young parents. We ate a lot of minced meat of one sort or another because it was cheap and easy to prepare and we all liked it. But now I know that this was the time when cattle were stumbling around their fields and then kicking the hands that milked them. Incredibly, the cows that were showing these symptoms of madness were dispatched quickly for slaughter and converted into meat. Altogether 640 billion doses of bovine spongiform encephalitis were consumed. No doubt the Hodmandods consumed some of them. It is a sobering thought.

According to this book if the prion had proved to have been as infectious as flu we would all be dead by now. But in fact there have been only 150 cases of vCJD. The agent which causes vCJD has not been very effective at crossing the species barrier. Furthermore it turns out that we have a genetic resistance to contracting the disease: individuals that are 'homozygotic' ie have the same two copies of a code to produce the amino acid methionine are more likely to get vCJD than those who have two different codes to make the protein.

This leads to a very interesting discussion on how our cannibalistic activities early in the history of mankind probably selected us to be resistant to prion disease.

There is no cure for prion disease yet but a way of preventing the build-up of amyloid plaques (dead misfolded proteins which occur in prion disease as well as in Parkinson's, multiple schlerosis, Alzheimers, Huntington's, Crohn's, rheumatoid arthritis and late onset diabetes) may be of benefit to many.

The book ends by explaining the author's interest: he too has a degenerate disease, although his has a slow chronic nature. He is somewhat dismissive of his condition, and I suppose in comparison to FFI it seems less dramatic, but I found his attitude both heroic and affecting.


Blogger tanabata said...

I don't read nearly as much non-fiction as I probably should but this does sound like an interesting and sobering read.

Mon Mar 10, 08:23:00 am  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

These three posts are interesting--they start out creepy and never quite reassure.

Clare, it strikes me that you are on more of a reading jag than usual. Or else you are writing about books more.

Or perhaps I am not sure.

My husband was in Montreal in that era, going to school--dead poor--and routinely ate some cone-shaped thing with a picture of a chicken on it. Turned out to be catfood.

Americans should learn more foreign languages...

Mon Mar 10, 02:13:00 pm  
Anonymous Clare said...

Tanabata: in some ways I think this is an essential read.

Marly: Yes, I am reading more, I guess. I'm trying to learn what to do because at the moment I haven't a clue. I am a big mess!

I should think your husband would be OK. According to this book there was more control on what went into cat food than there was human food at one stage in the UK - maybe Canada was the same.

As I was reading I kept remembering going to a really dubious-looking butcher and buying some stuff that was called simply 'meat'. I regret that now.

Mon Mar 10, 02:33:00 pm  
Anonymous Debra Hamel said...

This just cracked me up: "As I was reading I kept remembering going to a really dubious-looking butcher and buying some stuff that was called simply 'meat'. I regret that now."

You are good at the killer closing line, aren't you.

Mon Mar 10, 05:18:00 pm  
Anonymous Clare said...

Thanks, Debra!

Mon Mar 10, 08:09:00 pm  

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