UK's Human Mad Cow
Cases Rise 20-30%
In One Year
LONDON (Reuters) - British government scientists said the incidence of the deadly human form of mad cow disease in Britain was increasing by a "statistically significant" 20 to 30 percent a year. The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), set up by the government to monitor the brain-wasting disease, said however that it was too early to assess the long-term trend on variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).
"There are now 76 definite and probable cases, including seven probables still alive," the committee said in a statement late on Monday.
"The number of cases reported now indicated a statistically significant rising trend of about 20 percent to 30 percent per annum."
Last month the government launched an urgent inquiry into a cluster of CJD deaths around the small village of Queniborough in the central English county of Leicestershire.
Three of the four victims died within weeks of each other and all lived within a close radius. Two of those who died were teenagers.
Dr Robert Will, head of the government's CJD surveillance unit, said at the weekend that baby food and school meals may have been a major source for the Queniborough outbreak.
He said these foods in the 1980s contained mechanically extracted beef -- leftovers from the carcass which were removed with high-powered water jets and then ground up and used in cheap food products.
Many scientists believe humans contract the disease by eating meat from cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.
The Health Department has ordered tests of more than 10,000 tonsils and appendixes removed since 1985 to find out how many people in Leicestershire have contracted the disease.
A Department spokeswoman said last Friday an investigation would probably take months but could provide vital information on the disease.
Outbreaks of BSE all but crippled Britain's beef industry in the late 1990s and provoked a bitter political row within Europe over whose beef was safe to eat.
SEAC said the team investigating the Leicestershire deaths was likely to report within the next few months and could well cast new light on the transmission of the disease.

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