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New CJD outbreak claims 3 lives

New CJD outbreak claims 3 lives

May 13, 2001 United Press International
LONDON, May 13 (UPI) -- A new outbreak of the human form of the mad cow disease has claimed three lives and at least six clusters of the disease are under investigation across Britain, the Sunday Times newspaper reported.

Ministry of Health officials had no immediate comment on the report, which said the deaths occurred in two different areas of Britain. A spokeswoman said she could not confirm an investigation had been launched.

The Sunday Times said scientists were investigating six new potential clusters across the country in addition to the one confirmed by the government.

At least 90 people have died of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the human form of bovine spongiform encelopathy (BSE), usually contracted after consumption of contaminated beef.

The newspaper said experts were examining links between the cases by studying local butchery practices, medical records and eating habits. Scientists from the government-funded CJD Surveillance Unit, based in Edinburgh, are working in conjunction with health authorities in various parts of Britain in an effort to isolate common factors between cases, the newspaper said.

The Department of Health refused to identify the areas being examined, but health authorities in several areas confirmed to The Sunday Times they were assisting in investigations. The unit is believed to be preparing to launch studies in two other unnamed areas.

It said that as part of the investigation, scientists had also interviewed victims' families and sent questionnaires that ask where they bought meat, where children went to school and where they had hospital or dental treatment to ascertain if there was exposure to contaminated blood.

Research by the CJD Surveillance Unit and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that the incidence of CJD was twice as high in the north of Britain as in the south. Dr. Simon Cousens, who led the study, confirmed that potential new clusters were being investigated.

"There are other clusters, but they have to be taken into context," he told the newspaper. "Two cases in a rural area, for example, might be more surprising than 10 in London. The number of cases alone is not indicative."

The outbreak of the mad cow disease on British farms during the 1990s led to the slaughter of more than 5 million cows and led to international bans on imports of British beef. The crisis preceded the outbreak of the foot and mouth in British livestock disease, which has caused widespread misery on farms and affected rural economies.

The trouble on British farms before a June 7 general election has become a politically sensitive issue, leading to accusations that officials were seeking to play down the problem. The British Broadcasting Corporation cited claims by farmers that Ministry of Agriculture officials were excluding new foot and mouth outbreaks from their statistics, "masking the threat that the disease still poses."


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