BUPA has responded to the potential threat of a human epidemic of mad cow disease by drawing attention to the fact the terminal illness is covered by its critical illness policies.

The move follows the recent publication of Lord Phillips' report on the official inquiry into new variant CJD, which predicts up to 100,000 people in the UK could be incubating the brain disease.

A Bupa spokesman said that it had decided to highlight its nvCJD cover because people were increasingly becoming aware of the terminal illness.

The health insurer said its critical illness offers policyholders a tax free sum of up to £50,000 should they develop nvCJD.

However, it stressed that it had not yet received any claims for nvCJD illness.

The illness joins 14 other long-term illnesses covered by Bupa's policy such as kidney failure, cancer and Parkinson's disease.

Geoff Brown, Bupa health assurance managing director, said: “Although little is still known about nvCJD, it is possible to make plans to protect against it.”

He added: “Critical illness cover is one way of helping people to focus on obtaining the best possible care rather than worrying about household bills.”