CJD death as beef deal nears

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The Independent Online
Another death and a new case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), the human form of mad cow disease, have been discovered in Britain, as the hard bargaining among EU agriculture ministers over the beef crisis appeared to be edging towards an agreement late last night.

There appears to be confusion within the Government over how many people may have the suspected "new strain" of the illness, but a 42-year-old businessman is thought to have died from CJD on Sunday, after being in a coma since last year. And it emerged last night that a 27-year-old is also suspected of having developed the disease. Both cases are unusual, because past forms of CJD have typically struck people with an average age of 63.

At the meeting in Luxembourg yesterday, ministers agreed to open the doors of EU cold stores to up to 50,000 tons of British beef which consumers are shunning in the shops. But in order for the export ban to be lifted, the onus will be on the Government to come up with a selective slaughter programme in addition to the cull of 4.7 million older dairy cows which Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, proposed on Monday.

In tougher demands than were initially mooted, European ministers gave Britain until the end of the month to produce comprehensive plans for the selective culling of herds positively identified with BSE. They said the worldwide ban imposed on British beef exports last week should stay until the prevention and control programme was in place.

The latest victim of CJD, Ken Sharp, 42, a businessman from Liverpool, died in Walton Neurological Centre after falling ill in April last year. His widow, Patricia, said: "My husband was not a great meat-eater - no more, no less than anybody else." Of his illness, she said: "He was like a baby really, all he could do was swallow. He just got weaker and weaker.

"I do wonder whether this was something that could have been avoided. I worry whether it was something I gave him to eat and Ken's mother, Hilda, blames herself."

The newest suspect case has not been named. The victim's family approached the CJD Victim Support Unit, a self-help group offering assistance and advice to people and families with the disease, but requested that no details other than the age be given out.

In February, Anna Pearson, a 29-year-old solicitor, died from what doctors believe was CJD. A further case in a young person would be strong grounds to suspect that there is a link between beef products infected with mad cow disease, or BSE, and the latest cases of CJD.

Two weeks ago, the independent committee of experts advising the Government on BSE and CJD said that the best explanation for 10 cases of the "new strain" of CJD in 1994 and 1995 was exposure to BSE-infected beef products before 1989, when stricter controls on meat processing were introduced.

Last week the committee's leader, John Pattison, said there were another two suspected cases of the new strain of CJD under investigation. But the Department of Health could not say yesterday whether Mr Sharp or the 27-year-old were among those two. A spokesman did say that Ms Pearson was an additional case.

Yesterday no one at the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh, which investigates all suspected cases of the disease in the UK, was able to say either how many confirmed deaths there had been so far this year from the disease or how many cases had been referred.