CJD cluster fears after two deaths in one town

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Health officers are investigating a Stockport community after the death of two neighbours from the human form of mad cow disease.

Health officers are investigating a Stockport community after the death of two neighbours from the human form of mad cow disease.

The premature deaths of the two young men is the latest in a growing number of vCJD clusters across Britain. Investigators hope that by identifying these localised clusters they will be able to isolate the original sources of the infection.

Environmental health officers have launched a vigorous investigation of current and former local butchers, who might have slaughtered their own meat and could therefore be a source of infected food. The emergence of isolated clusters of victims has led health officers to believe they are dealing with separate sources of infection.

The latest death of a 28-year-old father from Stockport, Greater Manchester, who lived just two streets away from a 34-year-old man who died in April, has left the town's Adswood suburb casting around hopelessly for explanations.

Yesterday the BSE Foundation, a support group for victims' families, said the latest cluster reflected a pattern that would become more pronounced as further victims were diagnosed. "We all buy our food from common sources and it's only a matter of time before we see more places where this is happening," it said.

The experience of this Stockport housing estate reflects that of Armthorpe, a mining village near Doncaster, south Yorkshire; Ashford, Kent; and the Leicestershire village of Queniborough as sites of clusters of victims of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

AsSteven Luntlay dying of the disease in Adswood last Christmas, Paul Dickens, a garage spray-painter and father of a boy of nine, was becoming increasingly withdrawn, struggled to get upstairs - though he was a good local footballer - and could not carry a cup of tea. In May, he lost control of his car, ended up on a pavement and subsequently stopped driving.

Mr Dickens was seen by doctors at Manchester Royal Infirmary the following month but was already deteriorating so rapidly by then that he had forgotten the doctors' grim prognosis within 24 hours.

He died in November - the same month in which he had planned to marry Melanie, 27, his fiancée and partner of 12 years. The ceremony had to be brought forward to August. An inquest into his death has been opened and adjourned.

Mrs Dickens' only notion yesterday was that her husband may have been killed by the hamburgers he ate with friends in Stockport before playing for the local Hillgate Spartans football team each week.

"Little things started to get bad for him - his balance and his memory," she said. "He tried to carry on playing football but his balance was too bad.

"Our child does not understand. He doesn't know why this could have happened now."

Mr Lunt was diagnosed with vCJD last September and died in April. "It has been a heartbreaking thing to have to go through," said his mother.

Dr David Baxter, Stockport's consultant in communicable disease control, called for calm, reminding locals that only two out of 87 cases nationwide had been found in Stockport. "I can understand there is fear but there is not much evidence at the moment that these fears are justified," he said.

But while the Edinburgh vCJD unit analyses the cases, locals in Adswood remainworried and perplexed.