Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is a transmissible form of spongiform encephalopathy believed to be contracted from the consumption of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) infected beef products. To date over 100 individuals have developed this incurable disease. There have been no documented cases of iatrogenic infection, but there is a theoretical risk that surgical procedures could transmit the disease. This review describes the background of the disease and assesses the possible risks of transmission through endoscopic procedures. The risk of transmission by endoscopy is small and probably negligible if suitable procedures are followed. The greatest potential danger arises from healthy individuals who are incubating the disease. Pathological prions (PrP(sc)) may be found in lymphatic tissue of these individuals (particularly tonsils), but smaller amounts have been identified in the appendix and Peyer's patches. These prions are resistant to all forms of conventional sterilization. There is a theoretical risk that biopsy forceps and the operating channel of endoscopes could become contaminated. This review gives recommendations as to how these small risks can be minimized. They include the employment of single-use forceps for biopsies taken from the terminal ileum, greater attention to the maintenance of endoscopic equipment and accessories, more rigorous manual cleaning of endoscopic equipment and the use of well designed, disposable cleaning brushes for the operating channel of the endoscope.