Infected meat linked to death of CJD victim

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The Independent Online
A 30-year-old man who died of the degenerative brain disease CJD probably contracted the illness through eating meat infected with BSE, an inquest concluded yesterday.

Maurice Callaghan, 30, a mechanical engineer, died of the new variant of Creutzfeldt- Jakob disease last November after a nine-month illness.

Coroner John Leckey told the Belfast inquest that while he could not go any further than putting the cause of death down to CJD, he agreed with experts' views that the disease was linked to exposure to bovine spongiform encephalopathy - mad cow disease.

"It may be that there really are no other viable candidates and BSE is the front runner. But I believe it would be wrong for me to state that as a fact when the experts did not."

The inquest heard from Professor James Ironside, one of the authors of the new research linking CJD to BSE. He said that in all probability Mr Callaghan's death was linked to exposure to BSE, but there was as yet no direct evidence to confirm this.

"We researchers are fairly confident that BSE is at the root of the new variant. In the light of new evidence, it is most likely that it is linked to exposure to BSE before the offal ban was introduced in 1989," he said.

Mr Callaghan's widow, Clare, told the inquest how the once-keen sportsman deteriorated into a helpless invalid.

She said that in the last stages of his illness her husband was unable to speak, had no idea what was happening around him, and needed round- the-clock care.

He had been a fit and healthy man who had eaten red meat two or three times a week, she added.

After the inquest the family welcomed the findings of Professor Ironside and the coroner.

Mrs Callaghan said: "We are very satisfied. In coded words he has said it was likely that Maurice died due to exposure to BSE.

"As a family we need to discuss where we will take this from here. We need to take stock and discuss it."

She added that she hoped firmer evidence would soon be available to confirm the link. She joined the coroner in calling for a test for CJD to be developed as a matter of urgency.

Unlike inquests in the rest of the United Kingdom proceedings in Northern Ireland do not end in a verdict. Instead, the coroner gives a summary of the circumstances and most likely cause of death.