A HEARTBROKEN mum has spoken of how she had to help her teenage daughter plan her own funeral after contracting the human variant of Mad Cow’s Disease.
At just 15, Claire McVey became the youngest recorded victim of the Mad Cow’s Disease scandal – passing away just six months after falling ill.
Mum Annie says that she wanted to know “who to blame…because I wanted to go round and break their legs”.
She’s been speaking about her daughter’s tragic death on a new hard-hitting documentary due to air tonight on the biggest food scandal to hit the UK.
Annie had the devastating task of helping her teenage daughter arrange her own funeral.
“(Claire) wanted the whole sleeping beauty thing, centre of attention and why shouldn’t she?” Annie said.
“She wasn’t going to have a wedding, so that was her day.
“It was a glass coffin, lying on rose petals, flowers in her hair, the whole caboodle. It was heartbreaking.”
Annie’s agony was shared by many families back in the 90s and early 00s…and could be a reality for many others in the near future.
Future cases on the horizon
According to a hard-hitting documentary due to air tonight on BBC2, Britain is on the brink of a new Mad Cow Disease epidemic, experts have warned.
In Mad Cow Disease: The Great British Beef Scandal, Richard Knight, Professor of Neurology at the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh, warns: “There is still so much uncertainty.
“And one of the things that is uncertain is how many people in the UK are silently infected.
“I have to say we are simply not sure, but every prediction suggests there are going to be further cases.”
Disease may be lying dormant
Scientists have said that the disease may have an incubation period of up to 50 years.
And that could mean that hundreds more people could have it…but it just hasn’t kicked in yet.
New evidence also suggests that people previously thought to be immune could fall victim to the devastating disease.
In other words, the UK could have a ticking timebomb of a fresh epidemic.
No cure for the killer disease
To date, 178 people in the UK have died from Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the human form of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).
It kills off brain cells slowly, eventually resulting in changes in personality and physical impairment.
There’s currently no test or cure for it and no one has ever been held accountable for how it came to pass from cows to humans.
The beginnings of Mad Cow Disease were known in the 1980s, almost 20 years before the first human contracted vCJD.
It emerged that farmers had been feeding the remains of infected cattle back to cows via a product called “meat and bone meal”.
Cows, which are naturally herbivores, had been made into carnivores – eating diseased flesh…which then got fed to humans.
It was only when 19-year-old Stephen Churchill died from vCJD in 1996 that the government started warning the public about the potential dangers of eating cheap meat.
More people set to die
Years on, we still don’t know much about the disease but Prof Knight says that we “understand a lot more about the mechanisms than five years ago, and a huge amount more than 1980”.
He said that vCJD can pass via infected blood transfusions which can then spread affected blood to parts of the body, including the brain.
And, alarmingly, he warned that more people are likely to die from the disease.
“When there was a case in 2016, people were very alarmed, he said.
“We have expected cases to occur.
“The big surprise to me would be if there weren’t any more cases.”
How mad cow disease hit the British beef industry
Mad cow disease was first reported in the UK in 1986 but took six years to peak – with almost 1,000 new cases per week.
Brits began to fear eating burgers after a ban on the use of high risk offal for human consumption was introduced in 1989.
But in 1990, Agriculture Minister John Selwyn Gummer fed his young daughter Cordelia a beefburger, to prove it was ‘completely safe’.
As the epidemic continued to grip Britain, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) was detected in humans and linked to BSE.
This linked human disease caused the deaths of 176 Brits – starting with the tragic death of Stephen Churchill in 1995.
The 19-year-old began hallucinating and after ten months, he needed care 24 hours-a-day, completely unable to walk or communicate.
At the height of the epidemic in 1999, experts predicted that half a million people could die from the disease.
More than 180,00 cows were infected and four million cattle were slaughtered.
The European Union put a ban on importing British beef between 1996 and 2006 and the UK banned beef on the bone in 1997.
A £30million public inquiry was launched in 1997 by Tony Blair and heard from family members who had lost loved ones to vCJD.
The BSE Inquiry found failings – including how the government secretly handled the crisis and how they failed to make the best use of scientists.
Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is the human form of the Mad Cow’s Disease.
Cases of the disease peaked in 2000 with the last death being recorded in 2016.
We don’t know how many people in the UK population could develop vCJD in the future and how long it’ll take for symptoms to appear, if they ever will.
In theory, CJD can be transmitted from an affected person to others, but only through an injection or consuming infected brain or nervous tissue.
In other words, eating infected meat or having blood transfusions using infected blood are the main problems.
There have only been four cases of vCJD being spread by blood transfusions in the UK.
Psychological symptoms kick in first and are then followed by physical issues around four months later.
MORE ON HEALTH
Last year, we reported that a new case of mad cow disease had been discovered on a British beef farm.
It was the first case of the disease in three years in the UK and the first confirmed in Scotland since 2008.
The last outbreak before that one in Britain was in Wales in 2015 when the disease was discovered in a dead cow.
Symptoms of vCJD
Victims of the disease can start to show psychological symptoms pretty soon after infection.
Four months after, physical changes become apparent.
In the end, people are bedridden and unable to communicate.
Initial symptoms include:
- poor balance and co-ordination
- slurred speech
- vision problems
- severe depression
- loss of physical co-ordination
- muscle twitches and spasms
- loss of bladder and bowel control
- loss of speech and difficulty swallowing
- loss of memory
- loss of appetite
- paranoia and unusal emotional responses
- aggressive behaviour
In the final stages, people become totally bedridden and can’t communicate.
Death is usually the result of an infection like pneumonia or respiratory failure.
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