Death of Belfast man most likely due to BSE infected meat


BELFAST Coroners' Court has found that a CJD victim probably died through exposure to BSE infected meat. The inquest heard how Maurice Callaghan rapidly deteriorated from being a fit, healthy sportsman to a helpless invalid.

The coroner, Mr John Leckey, found that Mr Callaghan died from a new strain of CJD most likely linked to BSE. The inquest heard that there had been 14 identified cases of the new strain and that more were expected. Most of the victims were under 30.

Doctors were shocked at the rate of Mr Callaghan's physical and mental decline. A mechanical engineer from west Belfast, he was married with a four year old daughter. His wife gave birth to another girl 10 days after his death last November.

Ms Clare Callaghan told the inquest that her husband became unwell nine months before his death. He felt agitated and was not sleeping well. He went to his local GP.

Dr James Barbour said that Mr Callaghan had rarely been sick and had not visited him for five years. He prescribed the patient beta blockers. However, Mr Callaghan returned several times complaining of a tingling in his left hand and pain in his feet.

He was prescribed pain killers and sent for an X ray at the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) which did not identify any problems. By April, Mr Callaghan's speech had become slurred. He suffered short term memory loss and was often confused.

He once forgot the PIN number of his bank card. Another time his wife found him washed and shaved at 9 p.m., ready to go to work. He was unsteady on his feet, quiet and withdrawn, and was losing co ordination.

He had to give up driving because of loss of muscle control. In July, 1995, Mr Callaghan had to give up work and was admitted to the RVH. He was unable to name the British prime minister and had difficulty finding words. Scans were carried out to establish whether he had multiple sclerosis or a brain tumour but nothing showed up.

By September, neurological consultants suspected he was suffering from CJD. One of the consultants, Dr Stanley Hawkins, told the court how doctors were unable to carry out one scan on Mr Callaghan because his body was jerking so violently.

Ms Callaghan was told that her husband would not recover and he returned home later that month. He was bed ridden, had lost a great deal of weight, and was unable to speak properly or feed himself, she said.

By October, he was extremely feverish and unable to drink. In November, he was admitted to the Northern Ireland Hospice where he died later that month. Ms Callaghan said that in the last stages of his disease, her husband had no idea what was happening to him.

She said he had previously been fit and healthy. He was a keen basketball player and cycled between 50 and 60 miles a week. He ate red meat about three times a week and ate hamburgers regularly while at university.

Prof James Ironside, of the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh, said he was fairly confident that BSE was at the root of the new strain of CJD which killed Mr Callaghan. However, there was still no conclusive evidence to confirm this. He believed that such evidence would be forthcoming next year.

He claimed beef was safe to eat since the offal ban in 1989. There had so far been 14 cases of the new strain of CJD but he expected more to come to light as a result of people eating BSE infected meat before 1989.

The coroner found that Mr Callaghan had died from the new strain of CJD, probably through exposure to BSE infected meat. He declined to go any further and directly attribute the disease to BSE.

It may be that there really are no other viable candidates and BSE is the front runner. But I believe it would be wrong for me to state that as a fact when the experts did not," Mr Leckey said.

He extended his sympathy to the Callaghan family.