Disease investigators have sent a brain tissue sample of a deceased 32-year-old Spokane woman to a national research lab to be tested for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, an incurable condition that has multiple variants, including one called mad cow.
An autopsy of Amanda Greenwalt Wheaton noted that CJD was a potential diagnosis. She died Aug. 24.
Officials with the Washington state Department of Health were notified of the findings and sent a sample to the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center, said department spokesman Donn Moyer.
The brain disease is rare. Of the cases that are confirmed, the most frequent is a sporadic variant that can be hereditary.
A different, new variant of CJD transmitted to humans is called bovine spongiform encephalopathy – or mad cow disease. No person is known to have contracted the disease within the United States.
Mad cow disease created panic in the United Kingdom, where 180,000 cattle became infected, leading to the eradication of 4.4 million, with carcasses heaped into massive pyres.
More than 160 people in the United Kingdom have died from the disease.
Friends and family of Wheaton said Thursday they were concerned about the cause of her death. She gave birth to a daughter with her husband, Garick Wheaton, last October.
“I just think the state needs to figure this out,” said her aunt, Debbie Christie.
Moyer said the state investigates all suspected CJD cases that are reported. There are several each year.
“People are concerned about this,” he said. The tissue samples sent to the national lab help lead to an accurate diagnosis and also help researchers as they attempt to track down an infection source and find a cure for all variants of the disease.
Amanda Greenwalt Wheaton was the daughter of Ralph and Kay Greenwalt. She worked at Deaconess Hospital as a pharmacy technician for several years and later worked as a dental hygienist.