Little `Mad Cow' Risk to Americans

Americans face minimal risk of developing the human variant of the deadly "mad cow" disease because of protective regulations, researchers concluded yesterday.

The American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs said there have been 39 cases in the United Kingdom and one case in France of "new variant" Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of the brain-destroying disease believed contracted from eating infected meat.

But there have been no cases reported in the United States, either in humans or cattle, the council said.

The form of the disease that attacks cattle, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease, has never been known to exist in U.S. cattle and regulations covering feeding practices appear to safeguard the cattle population, the council's report said.

Regulations also are adequate to prevent entry of foreign sources of the disease into the United States, it said in a report in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Softener Called Safe

The vinyl softener that some groups oppose in IV bags is safe for use in medical devices and children's toys, a study released yesterday said.

A panel of scientists headed by former surgeon general C. Everett Koop said it reviewed published and ongoing studies on DEHP, a substance used to soften polyvinyl chloride intravenous bags that hold blood, medicine and other fluids.

The panel's findings contrast sharply with a study released last week by Health Care Without Harm, a consumer group campaigning against vinyl bags. That group said its review of more than 100 studies showed the substance could harm multiple organ systems in animals and pose a danger to humans when it leaches into fluids.

The group has asked the Food and Drug Administration, which is doing its own study of DEHP, to warn patients about the bags and encourage alternatives.

New Skin Test

A panel of scientists yesterday endorsed a new test to determine if a chemical is likely to burn or corrode skin without using laboratory animals.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which appointed the panel, said it was the first time a nonanimal test had been endorsed for such a purpose. It said the test, which uses a kind of artificial skin to check a chemical's corrosiveness, could meet a need now filled by many laboratory animals.

The new test, called Corrositex and made by In Vitro International of Irvine, Calif., uses a layer of collagen, the same material that holds the skin together. Chemicals are placed on the collagen layer and a chemical underneath changes color as they leak through. The time it takes for the color to change is an indicator of how corrosive the material is.