CJD suspect confirmed as 11th victim

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A new victim of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease - the human version of BSE - was confirmed yesterday by the centre monitoring the spread of the illness.

The victim, a 29-year-old man who was named last week as being suspected of suffering from CJD, brings to 11 the number of people now known to have contracted a new strain of the disease which some scientists argue may be linked to mad cow disease.

A brain biopsy conducted by Professor Peter Lantos, a neurologist at the London Institute of Psychiatry, confirmed that the man, thought to be Barry Baker, a woodcutter from Durrants Green, near Ashford, Kent, was suffering from CJD. He was named last week as one of three people suspected of having the disease in the Ashford area, where BSE first broke out.

Neither Professor Lantos nor the CJD Surveillance Centre in Edinburgh would confirm that Mr Baker was the latest victim. However, a spokesman for the Guys and St Thomas's Hospital Trust, which was treating the three from Ashford, said that an earlier statement that a biopsy was negative was "a mistake". Professor Lantos said the biopsy, involving the removal and testing of a tiny part of the brain, showed the latest victim had a type of CJD identified in 10 other victims since last October.

Dr James Ironside, a neuropathologist at the CJD Surveillance Centre, said: "Professor Lantos has conducted a biopsy which indicates that this is the 11th victim of the apparently new strain of CJD. We have not confirmed his findings independently yet, but we have accepted them. This is the 11th victim."

Dr Ironside rejected as "too premature" claims by Professor Peter Behan, a neurologist at Southern General Hospital, Glasgow, that a 15-year-old girl with a fondness for beefburgers was another victim. Professor Behan relied on a new test carried out in California which has not yet been recognised by other neurologists.

"The girl's diagnosis is still in question and there is absolutely no evidence to link eating beefburgers with CJD," said Dr Ironside.

"However, the fact that there have been 11 cases in such a short time is certainly cause for concern, particularly when you compare the incidence of CJD in Britain with other countries during the same period.

"It seems to represent what epidemiologists call a cluster in time. It is potentially very significant."