Two die from new type of CJD

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Two more people have died of the "new variant" of the fatal Creutzfeldt- Jakob Disease (CJD), believed to be caused by exposure to "mad cow disease" or BSE. The deaths, in the past month, brings the total number of British victims of "v-CJD" to 19, including one, Vicky Rimmer, who is still alive but in a coma.

The news will be a blow to both McDonald's and Burger King, which recently announced they were reinstating British beef in their hamburgers.

They stopped using it in March 1996, after the Tory government was forced to admit that the most probable explanation for the new disease was exposure to the disease agent - which has never been isolated - that causes bovine spongiform encepalopathy (BSE).

The latest announcement, to be made officially by the Department of Health on Monday, comes from figures compiled by the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh.

Scientists of the government's advisory body Seac are increasingly convinced that BSE is the direct cause of the disease although there is not yet absolute scientific proof. Jeff Almond, a Seac member, said yesterday: "The biggest suggestion that BSE causes v-CJD is the correlation of space and time. BSE appeared in 1985, in Britain, and 10 years later - which is the sort of incubation period these diseases have - we saw the first cases of v-CJD."

Since 1985 there have been more than 160,000 cases of BSE in Britain, and scientists estimate that almost 800,000 BSE-infected cattle that were not showing symptoms entered the food chain.