- The North-East may be sitting on a CJD timebomb, a leading
expert in the disease warned last night.
- Nine people are known to have died on Wearside from the
human form of BSE in just over a decade, The Journal can reveal.
- Now families and experts in the region claim the disease
could affect as many as one in 10 of the population.
- North-East virologist Dr Harash Narang, who has been
responsible for conducting brain biopsies on hundreds of suspected CJD
victims, says the true figure is far higher than the confirmed nine.
- But Government experts at the CJD Surveillance Unit in
Edinburgh have only looked at the brain tissue of a "selected sample"
and the true figures will never be known, he said.
- Now families are hoping the results of the BSE inquiry,
due out next month, will force the Government to take action and find a
way of preventing this killer disease from spreading.
- Jane Fairbairn, of Grange Town, Sunderland, whose 27-year-old
daughter Mandi Minto died of CJD in 1997, said she believed this was just
"the tip of the iceberg".
- "I believe we will have an epidemic on our hands
and there will be nothing we can do to stop it," she said.
- "And I think there have already been many, many
more deaths but because CJD hits people in different ways it is not always
- "There has been a lot of talk and not much action,
despite the overwhelming evidence that CJD is claiming lives, and I just
hope the inquiry will force the Government to take action."
- And on being told of the cluster she called for answers
saying even a single death was one too many.
- "I am convinced my daughter died through eating
BSE-infected meat. If there are many others in the area who died in the
same way then we need to know why," she said.
- "This is a frightening disease and the public has
to know how, why and when contaminated meat entered the food chain."
- Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, causes a cow's brain
to degenerate and become "spongy" in appearance.
- Last week, the Government produced its latest CJD figures,
showing a four-fold rise in the number of deaths since 1999. A spokesman
for the Department of Health said: "There is strong evidence that
new variant CJD did not exist before 1995.
- "We are obviously concerned about the rise in the
number of deaths and are awaiting the results of the inquiry."
- Lord Phillips, leading the inquiry, said: "No one
can say whether or not the victims so far are just the tip of the iceberg
of an infection that is still concealed from sight.
- "This is an unusual inquiry in that, while we are
investigating events which led to a disaster, the full extent of that disaster
may not be clear for many years to come."
- So far experts have been unable to say why there is a
cluster of victims of CJD in the region.
- Among those struck down by the disease was Kevin Stock,
the parish priest of St Columba's Church in Sunderland, who died in 1993.
- His sister, Brenda Gilbert, said it had been his dream
to raise enough money to replace the church bell.
- "He helped to raise over £30,000 but never
got to see the new bell because of the illness," said Brenda. "It
started with him forgetting what he was saying half way through sermons
then he just got worse and worse."
- Ralph Boutflower died within months of becoming ill and
after his death in 1989 a biopsy was carried out at the Newcastle General
Hospital which confirmed he had died of CJD.
- His wife, Sarah, said she and her children only realised
the connection with BSE when pictures of cows collapsing with the disease
appeared on television.
- "My son said to me 'That's exactly how my dad went',"
- The other victims in the Wearside cluster identified
by Dr Narang are: Jean Wake, 38, from Washington; Peter Hall, 20, who studied
in Sunderland; June Fazakerley, 62, from Silksworth, Sunderland; Doreen
Guy, 61 from Seaham; Stephen Churchill, 19, from Seaham; and a 67-year-old
Seaham woman identified only as Mary.
- Last month, Prof Robert Wills linked CJD to school meals
and baby food during the 1980s and fears have been raised about the spread
of the disease in milk and through dental instruments.
- Last month, the first sample of brain tissue from a haemophiliac
was sent to Edinburgh following fears that CJD may have been transmitted
through blood transfusions.
- Frances Hall, whose son Peter died in 1996, runs the
human BSE foundation based in Durham. She said: "Who ate the wrong
meat and who didn't is a bit like playing Russian roulette and I doubt
anyone is safe.
- "What is worrying is they got it wrong so often
- told us one thing then found out another.
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