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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 April 2006, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
Healthy woman, 34, died of vCJD
Coroner's Report
Nicola Watts was diagnosed with vCJD only days before she died
A woman contracted the human form of mad cow disease despite avoiding fast food, a Barnstaple inquest has heard.

Nicola Watts of Paignton followed a fresh food diet but in 2004 started having mood swings and trouble walking.

She died at a Devon hospice in 2005, aged 34. Post-mortem tests showed she died from new variant CJD (vCJD).

Greater Devon coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland recorded an open verdict at Tuesday's inquest after there was no evidence of how vCJD was contracted.

'Strict diet'

Professor James Ironside from the CJD surveillance unit at Edinburgh University said post-mortem tests proved Mrs Watts had died from new variant CJD, which was first identified 10 years ago when a link was found with BSE in cattle.

He told the inquest the most common cause of infection was through infected beef, but that it was not always the case, as five victims were vegetarians.

Mrs Watts was the 153rd victim of the human form of mad cow disease in Britain.

She was worried she was going mad and she had no control over anything
Gary Watts, husband

Her husband Gary Watts said: "When we married we ate a variety of products fresh and otherwise but Nic would not have fast food and she avoided burger bars."

He said she became ill with a rash while on holiday in America two years before she died and, after being prescribed cortisone, she put on weight and started to follow a strict diet.

'Depressed'

He said: "She started a very healthy eating regime and only bought good quality produce and prepared everything fresh.

"In September 2004, I started to notice things that didn't seem to make sense. Her personality changed and she became angry for no apparent reason.

"I initially thought she was depressed. She was worried she was going mad and she had no control over anything."

Mr Watts said she started to have difficulty walking and was seen by physiotherapists before eventually being passed on to neurologists who identified her disease days before she died.

Dr Earland told the inquest: "I am not satisfied we have evidence she contracted vCJD either from food or some other exposure.

"Accordingly I am bringing in an open verdict."


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