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Former abattoir worker `has CJD'

A FORMER abattoir worker is believed to be suffering from Creutzfeldt- Jakob Disease, the human equivalent of "mad cow" disease.

Staff from the Government's CJD surveillance unit in Edinburgh have travelled to York to see Leonard Franklin, aged 52, who worked in an abattoir for two years and is being treated at York District Hospital. Yesterday doctors confirmed that their "working diagnosis" of his condition is CJD.

"Other conditions have been ruled out," said Dr Ray Marks, medical director of York Health Services Trust, which runs thehospital. "It is not possible to make a fully accurate diagnosis of CJD until after death, but in this case, the only diagnosis we have is that he has CJD."

CJD is a debilitating, fatal condition for which there is no cure. Its symptoms include progressive dementia, loss of sight, spasmodic jerking and unsteadiness of gait.

Mr Franklin's family is worried his illness may have stemmed from working in an abattoir for two years until 1991. His ex-wife Olga Franklin said he frequently became spattered with cows' blood and brains when at work and sometimes had cuts on his hands which could have come into contact with infected blood.

She spoke of how his health had deteriorated over recent months. "He came to see us in September when the symptoms were first beginning to show.

"Even then his hands were shaking and he had difficulty holding a cup of tea. He complained of a pain in the back of his head and his mind was swimming all the time.

"At the time we thought it might be the disease but doctors didn't consider it until this month. Now he is like a man of 70 or 80, can hardly move and has virtually lost his eyesight."

The first case of CJD was diagnosed in 1920, but scientists are still baffled by the brain wasting condition, which killed 55 Britons last year. The disease has claimed 29 lives in 1995 and was suspected in another 65 cases. The last confirmed victim died in Gloucestershire a fortnight ago. Among recent deaths are four dairy farmers.

Increasing numbers of shoppers have been boycotting beef amid fears that humans develop CJD from meat derived from cattle infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy ("mad cow" disease) and the Government has banned the brain and spinal cord of cattle from human food and from animal feeds. However, a definite link between CJD and mad cow disease has not been proved.