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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scientists Deny Reports of 3 Mad Cow Deaths

Russian scientists Wednesday sought to reassure people that the country was free of the deadly human form of mad cow disease after reports had suggested there had been three deaths from it last year.

Russian news agencies and television quoted Health Ministry scientist Mels Turyanov as saying one person had died of new variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, or vCJD, last summer and two last fall.

But the deputy director of the Burdenko Institute of Neurosurgery, which had supposedly diagnosed the illness, was later quoted as saying it had never had such patients.

"Our neurosurgeons know of this disease only from medical literature," he was quoted as saying by various local media.

It was unclear whether Turyanov's reported comment had referred to vCJD, the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which has been linked to eating infected meat, or classic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

No one was available for comment at the Health Ministry on Wednesday.

"No one has been diagnosed with or died of either new variant or classic Creutzfeldt-Jakob," said Sergei Rybakov of the All-Russian Research Institute for Animal Health, the country's only test laboratory for BSE and vCJD.

CJD is a very rare brain-wasting disease that usually affects people in their 60s or 70s and is not linked to eating infected meat, while the new variant form can affect much younger people.

"We have tested the brains of two suspected victims of new variant Creutzfeldt Jakob since the institute began looking at the disease, but they were both negative, and that situation remains the same," Rybakov said.

Rybakov's institute, located in Vladimir east of Moscow, has also tested the brains of 1,000 cows from around 60 different regions and found no trace of BSE since it began looking for the disease at the end of 1998.

President Vladimir Putin and Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev on Tuesday discussed ways to keep both BSE and and foot-and-mouth disease, which is sweeping across Europe, out of the country. Last week Russia announced steps to gird itself against the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease spreading through Europe.

The local meat industry would need at least two years of significant investment to compensate for imports from European Union countries in the event of an all-out ban, said Viktor Yatskin, head of the trade and information committee of the Russian Meat Union.

Russia banned imports of British beef and cattle in the mid-1990s to stop the spread of BSE. It banned live cattle imports from the Netherlands and restricted beef imports from Portugal, Switzerland, Ireland and France at the end of last year.

But Russians fear they could have eaten contaminated food as imports account for a third of meat consumed.