A preliminary inquiry into a cluster of cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in a Leicestershire village has moved a step closer to confirming that contaminated beef was the cause of the outbreak.

A preliminary inquiry into a cluster of cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in a Leicestershire village has moved a step closer to confirming that contaminated beef was the cause of the outbreak.

Leicestershire Health Authority is carrying out an investigation into the deaths of five people from the variant form of the disease (v-CJD) in and around the village of Queniborough, Leicestershire.

Dr Bernard Crump, director of public health for the authority, said that a number of possible sources of the diseasehad been ruled out. "We are still trying to learn as much as we can from the five confirmed cases," he said. "By putting that information alongside local information, we hope to try and establish a link."

Most of the victims would have contracted the diseasemore than 10 years ago when cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) were entering the human food chain.

Scientists have ruled outschool dinners, baby foods, drinking water, immunisations, blood transfusions and animal bites as factors.

Dr Philip Monk, a consultant in communicable diseases, said: "We are on the way to finding a possible linking hypothesis. However, we have not yet found a theory that can link all the cases. We believe the meat supply chain is the only remaining factor."

Dr Monk said that in 1990 a pet cat from the Queniborough area died from the feline form of BSE after eating infected meat. He said this was "corroborative evidence that BSE was in the area".

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