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Recent news stories suggesting you might be able to ‘catch’ Alzheimer’s should not be a cause for concern, say medical experts

Alzheimer’s disease was in the headlines again recently after a landmark study suggested it could be spread from person to person, either through blood transfusions or during other medical procedures, including dental surgery.

The study, by researchers at University College London, claimed it might be possible for the ‘seeds’ of dementia to be transferred from human to human, via contaminated medical instruments. Whilst this sounds alarming, medics say it’s important not to panic – or cancel your next trip to the dentist.

The study itself is intriguing but small; scientists were probing the deaths of eight young people who died of Creuzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) which they’d contracted via contaminated blood transfusion in the 1970’s (the practice was banned in 1985).

Four of the eight were found to have also contracted huge levels of amyloid beta protein in their brains – one of the most common feature of Alzheimer’s disease – meaning they were very likely to develop dementia, had they lived longer. This led researchers to speculate that the proteins may have been transmitted by the same route as the CJD.

The findings could be extremely valuable in the long term search for dementia treatments and cures, but do not suggest that Alzheimer’s disease is contagious, and should be kept in perspective, insists Government Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies.

There are too many unknowns in this small, observational study to draw any conclusions.
– Dr Doug Brown

‘This was a small study on only eight samples,’ says Professor Davies. ‘I can reassure people that the NHS has extremely stringent procedures in place to minimise infection risk and patients are very well protected. ‘

Dr Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, is equally cautious.
‘There are too many unknowns in this small, observational study to draw any conclusions,’ he says.

Professor John Collinge, who headed the research, maintains it could lead to a ‘paradigm shift’ in focus for future scientific study, but concludes; ‘Evaluating what risk, if any, there might be requires much further research.’

And it’s important to keep visiting the dentist, says Dr Emma O’Brien of Alzheimer’s Research UK, who explains there’s more evidence that the gum disease periodontitis (caused by poor dental hygiene) can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s than dental treatment can.

In a nutshell
• This was a very small study.
• There is no evidence of Alzheimer’s being transmitted through surgery.
• There is no evidence of Alzheimer’s being transmitted through blood transfusion.
• There is no evidence that visiting the dentist will increase your risk of getting Alzheimer’s, but neglecting your dental hygiene might.