Vicky's death no link to BSE lin

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VICKY RIMMER, the British girl who was supposed to have been the world's first victim of "mad cow" disease, did not in fact contract the human brain disease linked to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

The latest data on new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD), the human form of BSE, shows that Vicky's death nearly a year ago almost certainly had nothing to do with eating BSE-infected beef.

Post mortem studies have revealed that Vicky did not have the distinguishing symptoms of nvCJD but rather that she died from the "classical" form of CJD which has no proven link with BSE.

The findings fly in the face of the media coverage of Vicky's tragic story. Newspapers and television repeatedly used distressing images of her in a coma to make a premature link between BSE and CJD long before the scientific evidence emerged in 1996 for the new type of human brain disease.

Confirmation that Vicky did not die from the human form of BSE will be revealed in information on the 29 people who have so far succumbed to nvCJD, which will be published by the National CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh.

The data will show the date of onset of nvCJD symptoms and the date of death for each person.

Although none of the victims are identified, the data will reveal that the earliest case was in 1994, a year after Vicky first showed signs of a serious brain disorder, and that none of the 29 cases of nvCJD died in November 1997 - the month of Vicky's death.

Robert Will, the head of the CJD Unit, refused this weekend to comment on the case: "I have a duty of responsibility to the patients who have been referred to this unit to maintain confidentiality about individual cases and that is an absolute requirement which I will not break," he said.

However, the anonymous data on the 29 nvCJD cases has been issued to scientists for research purposes and it will appear in the unit's annual report to be published in the next few weeks, Dr Will said.

Previously there has only been one documented case of classical CJD in a person under 30. That victim died in the early Eighties.

The tragedy of Vicky Rimmer stirred the nation when her condition was first televised by Channel 4's Dispatches programme in January 1994, when she was just 16 years old.

Although the link between her severe brain disease - which had reduced her to a pitiful shadow of her former self - and BSE was less than tenuous, newspapers and television soon elevated her to being the first person with mad cow disease.

In subsequent publicity material, Channel 4 said its Dispatches documentary was one of the first to expose the link between BSE and CJD. BBC's Newsnight, in its award-winning coverage of CJD, also used Vicky as an example of someone suffering from the human form of BSE.

Vicky, who was brought up in Heswall on the Wirral by her grandmother, Beryl, showed the first symptoms of being ill early in 1993 when she was 15. Her condition rapidly deteriorated and she went into hospital later that year. She lost weight, could not swallow and for more than four years she lay in a coma without being able to see, talk or move until she died last November, aged 20.

Mrs Rimmer insisted this weekend that Vicky's death was due to her eating beefburgers and she said that the CJD Unit has begun further tests on her brain which will show this.

"We've not had the results yet which is why we've not had the inquest," she said.

Mrs Rimmer, along with other families affected by CJD, will appear before the BSE inquiry later this month.