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"We have no idea how it spreads from cows to people"
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The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"Those leading the investigation are convinced they have found a common link"
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Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 08:11 GMT
Villagers await CJD answers
Village of Queniborough
Five people died in the village
Residents of a Leicestershire village at the centre of Britain's first vCJD cluster will find out the exact cause of the outbreak on Wednesday.

Villagers of Queniborough, where five people died, will be the first to officially hear the news.

But it is believed all the people affected ate meat contaminated with the brains of infected cattle, and local butcher practices in the 1980s will be partly blamed.

A series of coincidences in the supply of meat to the area is also expected to be cited.

vCJD (Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease) is the human form of BSE, or mad cow disease. It is thought it can be contracted by eating meat contaminated with BSE, but the link has not been categorically proved.

According to latest figures, 94 people have died from definite or probable vCJD.

Like so many scientific matters, it was staring us in the face

Dr Philip Monk, Leicester Health Authority
An inquiry was launched last July, and last November an interim report into the cases of vCJD decided that meat supplied locally was probably to blame for the cluster.

The only known common link between the victims was that they all ate beef or beef products, but they did not share a common butcher.

Coincidence unlikely

Scientists said they had ruled out any connection between the outbreak and the jobs done by the five victims, who all lived within a three mile radius of one another.

They also discounted any link between the disease and baby food or school milk.

But the scientists confirmed that the disproportionate death toll from the disease was unlikely to be a coincidence.

Earlier in March, Dr Philip Monk, consultant in communicable disease control at Leicester Health Authority, said the source they had discovered was extremely obvious.

"When I shared with colleagues what we had found, they said why didn't we think of that before.

"Like so many scientific matters, it was staring us in the face."

Support group

Clive Evers, from the CJD Support Network, said the inquiry appeared to have been "exhaustive".

He said: "They have gone into this in great detail. The outcome of it may give us better information about predicting cases of vCJD in the future.

"It may also explain the particular practices in this area behind the infected material entering the food chain which we know happened throughout the UK."

However, Professor Richard Lacey, of Leeds University, a microbiologist who first suggested the link between BSE and vCJD, said nobody knew for certain how VCJD was transmitted.

He said the Leicestershire report was "pure speculation".

Death toll

The cluster was first reported in 1998 after three people died within 12 weeks.

Glen Day, 35, from Queniborough and Pamela Beyless, 24, from nearby Glenfield died in October.

Stacey Robinson, 19, formerly of Queniborough, had died two months earlier in August.

A 19-year-old man then died in May and at the same time health officials said it was "highly probable" that a 24-year-old man in the county had also contracted the disease.

A fifth person, a male farm worker, died in September.

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See also:

21 Mar 01 | Health
Expert dismisses CJD report
21 Mar 01 | Health
CJD report 'won't help me'
18 Mar 01 | Health
Medicines could carry vCJD
16 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Sore throat link to CJD
14 Feb 01 | Health
CJD compensation announced
04 Jan 01 | Scotland
Single-use scalpels to combat CJD
08 Nov 00 | Health
CJD cluster source 'traced'
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