Student is latest victim of CJD amid figures shock

April 6, 2001 Scotsman by Alastair Jamieson and Jill Stevenson

A Glasgow University student has become the 85th victim ofvCJD - as new figures show Scotland has more than double the number of cases of the human form ofMad Cow disease than many other parts of the UK.

Kate Richer, 22, died from the disease last February. Her parents, Derek and June Richer, last night told how they were forced to watch their "beautiful and intelligent" daughter deteriorate to such an extent she could not even swallow her medication.

The couple made the decision to stop doctors feeding their daughter intravenously after she began to suffer hallucinations and nightmares.

"No-one should have to live like that," said Mrs Richer, 58. "If Kate could have spoken she would have told us that was what she wanted. She might have lived a little longer but she had no quality of life. It was the hardest decision we have had to make." The couple, from Hampshire, have four other children. Kate was their youngest. The first sign there was anything wrong with Kate was when she began to feel numbness and pins and needles down her left hand side.

Shortly afterwards, her hearing began to fail and in April she left her course. Two months later her co-ordination and concentration had gone. In July she was diagnosed with the illness by doctors at Edinburgh'sCJD surveillance unit.

Mr Richer, 64, said: "She would cry in frustration at not being able to do the things she wanted despite her determination. We had to watch our daughter deteriorate day by day."

Meanwhile, the new report reveals that of 85 victims of variantCJD in the UK, a noticeably higher number were from the north of the UK, with Scotland the worst-affected.

Experts at theCJD surveillance unit, who helped to compile the study, believe Scotland's poor diet of pies and burgers could be to blame. The study in medical journal the Lancet reveals that, in Scotland, the cumulative rate ofvCJD was 2.98 per million, compared with 2.66 for north England, 2.38 for Yorkshire and Humberside and 1.4 for south-east England.

Regions in the north of England had the next highest numbers, particularly in the north-west area, Yorkshire and Cumbria. Researchers from the unit, including Professor Robert Will and experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, have ruled out better identification of cases as an explanation for the higher rate in Scotland.

But scientists found conflicting evidence on how diet may be linked toCJD incidence, with no clear differences in eating habits of meat products suspected to cause the illness between north and south despite the difference in case numbers. The scientists' report said: "Those items most likely to have contained mechanically recovered meator high-titreBSE agent [perceived high risk] material from the central nervous system [burgers, kebabs, sausages, meat pies and pastries and other meat products] showed no consistent pattern of higher consumption in northern regions."

Last night Professor Will said: "It is our hypothesis - and it is only a theory - that diet is the probable explanation.

"The researchers looked at the household diet of families in the northern parts of the UK and the southern parts and the differences might be the key to the higher incidences. In terms of diet, a greater consumption of meat products, rather than meat itself, might be a factor.

"These would include pies, burgers and kebabs.

"It is important to remember that we were looking at diet some 20 years ago, in the 1980s, because that is the period in which the disease appears to have come about."

He said there was still no proven link betweenBSE andCJD, and that it was proving difficult to suggest whether the number of cases was likely to continue rising.

"It's all very difficult to prove, although we are gradually eliminating some theories. Certainly, the original suggestion that the number of cases in the north of the UK was higher because of better identification and reporting of cases does not appear to be true."

Compensation and care package negotiations have been going on since last autumn after the government was spurred into action by the damning Lord Phillips' report into the handling of theBSE affair.

Alan Milburn, the health minister, also announced an extra million pounds for the surveillance unit in Edinburgh to "kickstart" a national fund for the care of victims.

Last November a study by the Government-commissioned surveillance unit at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh found no significant link between beef consumption andvCJD, the human form ofBSE. It also failed to find any conclusive proof the type of job done by victims ofvCJD, or medical treatment, caused them to develop the fatal condition.

Official figures on Monday are expected to reveal the number of UK cases is now nearing, prompting renewed calls for compensation for ScotsCJD victims and their families.

David Body, the solicitor representingCJD victims and their relatives in the UK, said: "We are concerned that these numbers are rising. This makes it even more important that we get a suitable care package for still-living victims and compensation for families as soon as possible."

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