The world’s largest life and health re-insurer warned, in a report published Thursday, of potential lawsuits if hospitals don’t implement modern risk-management measures.
Current methods used by most hospitals to decontaminate surgical instruments are "not sufficient" to destroy the infectious prion proteins, the report said.
State-imposed cost-cutting measures have added to the risk of contamination during surgery, it added. The human form of mad cow disease is known as
variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (nvCJD).
"Because insurers are financially exposed, they must work on the basis of worst-case scenarios, purely in the interests of self-preservation," Swiss Re said.
The report, authored by Reto Schneider, went on to say that several thousand people in Europe could currently be infected with nvCJD and that if those people were to undergo surgery, other patients could be at risk.
"Several thousand or tens of thousands of people may be affected in Europe"
Swiss Re. report
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cows disease, has been reported in 19 European countries as well as in Japan, Israel and Canada.
It is currently believed that consumption of meat from cattle suffering BSE, especially the brain or spinal cord, can lead to the disease jumping the species barrier and infecting the person eating it.
Insurers have been forced out of the market and premiums were becoming prohibitively expensive for hospitals, the report added.