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Butchering Likely To Blame

A pattern has emerged in the quaint British village of Queniborough--a pattern of fatal illness: a cluster of five cases of the human form of mad cow disease called variant CJD. The youngest victim was 17, and the oldest 34. CBS News Correspondent Richard Roth reports.

Pamela Beyless was 24 years old when she died from the sickness that destroyed her brain and nervous system. But how exactly she got the disease remains a mystery, says Pamela's father. "We know obviously they caught it from cattle, but what we don't know is the bit in between: how they caught it," says Arthur Beyless.

The report released Wednesday in Queniborough rules out drinking water and school meals as a link among the small town's five victims, and concludes the probable cause was at the butcher's: a traditional method of butchering whole carcasses. The practice is no longer allowed, now that it's suspected of allowing infected brain tissue to contaminate cuts of beef.

"What we cannot say is whether anybody else has been exposed. If other people have been exposed we cannot say whether they may or may not be incubating the disease," said Dr. Philip Monk of the Leicester England Health Authority.

The British government insists the country's meat supply is safe, because it says the meat industry, where the problem began, is now tightly regulated.

Yet even as they learn more about how the disease may spread, British health authorities are implementing new precautions. In hospitals, for instance, routine tonsil surgery now must be done with disposable instruments.

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