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New Theory About Mad Cow Disease

A new theory about mad cow disease, or bovine spongioform encephalopathy, has emerged from Britain. A government scientist there says the disease may have been passed on to young people through school lunches, in foods like burgers and sausages.

The theory comes as the scientists report they have found a cluster of deaths in a small village.

CBS' Tom Fenton reports from this village, which has now become the center of an investigation.

In the last few years, four young people with ties to this small village in rural England have died from the deadly human form of the disease. A fifth, from nearby, is now showing symptoms.

"This is a cluster, and it's unlikely to have occurred by chance, which really means that there's something causing it," says local health official Dr. Philip Monk.

What's worrying about this disease is that it takes years for the symptoms to appear. There is no way of telling how many people walking around today are infected. And there is no treatment and no cure.

Scientists suspect the disease is transmitted by eating meat from infected cattle, and the British government slaughtered millions of cattle because of it, but even that is still an hypothesis.

Local milkman Arthur Bayliss hopes the cluster of cases may be a clue.

"There might be a possible link there, a direct link, and if there is, well, it might lead to a cure," Bayliss says.

His daughter Paula was one of the victims. She died at the age of 24.

If scientists do find a connection between this village and the disease, they may find a way to fight a threat whose dimensions are still unknown.

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