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Butcher link to CJD cluster

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Age-old practices were linked to the cluster  

QUENIBOROUGH, England -- Local butchers have been blamed for a cluster of deaths from the human form of mad cow disease in England.

An official report into the deaths of five people from new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) concluded they had all eaten beef contaminated with the brains of BSE-infected cattle.

It blamed age-old practices in small butchers and abattoirs around the village of Queniborough in Leicestershire.

The five victims died between August 1998 and October last year. The inquiry was launched in the hope that it would help scientists understand how the cattle disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was passed to humans.

There have been 95 confirmed or probable cases of vCJD in the UK. Two people in France are also reported to have died from the brain-wasting disease.

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"We developed the hypothesis that the people who had developed vCJD were exposed to the BSE agent through the consumption of beef and carcass meat," said Dr Philip Monk, one of the authors of the report.

He said that particles of infected brain could have come into contact with meat "during the boning, jointing and cutting process in those butchers' premises where the heads of beasts were split to remove brain."

Local people said the report had unveiled some of the mysteries of the disease.

"Everyone came here with a very limited understanding of what vCJD was and I think they have a better feeling now for how it happened and what is being done to stop it," said 17-year-old James Webster.

Pensioner Audrey Waller, who has lived in Queniborough for 45 years, said she was happy with the official explanation.

"It seemed to make a lot of sense. I was very interested to hear what they had to say because my two children were growing up here at the same time as the victims," she said.

Professor Roy Anderson, an epidemiologist and adviser to the inquiry, said traditional methods meant butchers around Queniborough continued to come into contact with cows' brains much longer than colleagues in other areas.

The practice was phased out elsewhere during the 1970s but was not banned by the government until 1989, three years after BSE was first identified in Britain.

But some scientists dismissed the inquiry as a gimmick, aimed at finding a scapegoat without addressing the causes of vCJD.

"We don't know the year it started. We don't know how it got from the cows to people. We have no idea as to how it spread in detail from cows to people," said Professor Richard Lacey, one of the first people to link BSE and vCJD some 10 years ago.

"It's not really being very honest... This has been the whole basis of BSE over 15 years -- not to get at the truth but to reassure in the short term," he told BBC radio.

Mad cow disease was first identified in Britain in 1986 and has cost the country billions in lost exports.

Scientists first identified vCJD in 1996 but opinion is still divided as to how the disease is passed to humans.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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The British BSE Inquiry
Human BSE Foundation
World Health Organisation: BSE and vCJD factsheets

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