Two people have died in central Spain in the past three months after contracting the human form of mad cow disease in the first such fatalities in the country since 2005, the health ministry said Monday.
The two victims apparently contracted the brain-wasting disease before Spain and the European Union tightened controls on meat production in the mid-1990s following the appearance of the illness, the ministry said in a statement.
"These cases have no epidemiological consequences, that is to say, they do not put citizens' health at risk," the statement said.
Spain recorded its first and, until now, only human death from brain-wasting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in June 2005 when a 26-year-old woman succumbed in Madrid.
More than 200 people around the world are suspected to have died, most of them in Britain, from the human variant of the disease, which was first described in 1996.
Scientists believe the disease was caused by using infected parts of cattle to make feed for other cattle.
Authorities believe eating meat from infected animals can cause the human variant of the fatal brain-wasting disease.
The 27-member EU, of which Spain is part, banned high-risk materials such as spinal cord from use in feed and tighter labeling was also introduced.
Agriculture Minister Elena Espinosa sought to convey a message of calm, saying that "we are not in the circumstances that we were many years ago.
"The meat was consumed years ago before any type of control was established, in Spain or in the European Union," she told Cadena Ser radio.
The latest Spanish victims of the disease are from the central Castilla-Leon region. One died on December 28 and the other on February 7, a spokeswoman for the region's health department said.
Spain's food security agency, AESA, said the two were a woman aged 51 and a man of 41.
The health ministry said their deaths were only now being reported because post-mortem testing for the disease is a lengthy process.
"There may possibly be more cases in the European Union but always as a consequence of what happened over a decade ago," it said in the statement.
Britain has been the epicentre of mad cow disease, with tens of thousands of cases in the early 1990s. That figure dropped sharply after stringent culling procedures were adopted in 1996.
Spain has been relatively unscathed by the disease, with 325 animals infected between 2000 and 2003.
The first case of the disease was detected in Spain in November 2001. The following year consumption of beef dropped in Spain while chicken and fish sales soared. Exports of Spanish beef were also hurt.
Shares in Spain's largest fish processor, Pescanova, soared on Monday as the market anticipated a rise in fish consumption in the wake of the two new deaths from the human form of mad cow disease.