THE death toll from the ''flesh-eating'' infection rose to 12

yesterday as the Government attempted to calm public anxiety.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth Calman said there was no evidence of

any increase in the normal incidence of necrotising fasciitis.

Concern increased as more cases came to light of the disease, first

reported in Gloucestershire, which is thought to occur when

streptococcal bacteria is turned into a killer after attack by a virus.

As the British toll rose, it emerged the infection had also struck in

several other countries including Germany, Switzerland, Norway, and


Dr Calman said everything that could be done was being done to

investigate the wave of cases.

''Regrettably, some sporadic cases occur all the time. There is no

evidence of any increase in the normal incidence of this disease, even

taking the Gloucestershire cases into account.

''Indeed, there is no firm evidence that the other cases reported in

the media are cases of necrotising fasciitis at all. I would like to

reassure the public that there is no evidence of the incidence

increasing over the whole country, or to suggest that it will


The search for a vaccine against the infection has been taken up by

the French, the British scientist who paved the way for them said


Bacteriologist Dr David Seal, now living in Glasgow, demonstrated when

he was working for the Medical Research Council in the 1980s how two

common throat germs could combine to produce the deadly gangrenous

effect, necrotising fasciitis.

Before he and his colleagues could take their work further, financial

cut-backs were imposed on the MRC throwing the future of the Clinical

Research Centre in Harrow, where he worked, into doubt.

He was one of a number of consultants who left the centre. His report

was published, but the project lay on the shelf. ''Now the French are

taking it up and have been in touch with me,'' he said. ''They are

working on it in Paris so we might see a vaccine emerge from there.''

Cuts in research funding of #10m even now are threatening the Public

Health Laboratory Service, which has been gathering vital information

about the infection, a science union claimed.

Mr John Simmons, MSF regional officer, said the proposals were

targeted on the Central Public Health laboratory in Colindale, North

London, but further cuts were imminent in 53 other labs in England


Glasgow-based regional officer Mike Fuller said the laboratories at

Glasgow's Royal and Western Infirmary Trusts were also working ''near to

the bone'' because of demands by Greater Glasgow Health Board for cuts

and income generation equivalent to 7%.

Although the Regional Reference Laboratory at Stobhill Hospital -- the

equivalent of Colindale -- is protected so far by central funding, he

described the situation at the Western and Royal as ''a disaster waiting

to happen''.

Mr Simmons said: ''At a time when the newspapers are full of stories

of new and highly dangerous diseases it seems difficult to comprehend

why this Government is prepared to put the public health at risk by

making these cuts in an attempt to redress its public spending


The Medical Research Council yesterday played down the role of funding

cuts in the abandonment of Dr Seal's project. A former colleague,

Professor Peter Borriello, now working in Nottingham, described his

claim as ''nonsense''. Dr Seal had left of his own accord and could have

carried on if he wished, he said.

However, he admitted: ''The Clinical Research Centre was under review

so that the money could be spread round the country. The vaccine was

listed as a future item for review. I said it was something we would

wish to pursue but it was put lower on our list of priorities than

meningitis and another bug, clostridium difficile, which frankly were

causing more deaths.''

He added there had been mounting pressure at the time, partly

political, to devote more of resources to meningitis, ironically because

of the outbreak in Stroud, Gloucestershire, where the current cluster of

necrotising fasciitis was first centred.

Dr Seal said: ''The decision to leave was mine and that of the other

consultants, but at the end of the day this was going to take 10 years

to work through, and that kind of thing has to be done from a base where

there is security of the kind you don't get when the visiting committee

has decided the MRC is to close the place.''

The two bacteria identified by Dr Seal's research are streptococcus

pyogenes, working in synergy with a form of staphyloccocus aureus.

Only the strep bacterium has been isolated in the current batch of

cases, giving rise to speculation about an unknown virus exercising some

kind of mutation over it.

Since the recent cluster of cases drew the infection to public

attention the numbers have increased daily -- and, for the most part,


Only two of the 12 known victims have still to be officially confirmed

as having suffered from necrotising fasciitis.

These are Pamela Cunningham, 25, of Bathgate, West Lothian who died in

February and an elderly patient who died in Devon last month. The latest

victim, confirmed yesterday, was a 43-year-old man who died in Cardiff

Royal Infirmary on May 1.

Health officials in Glasgow said that a reported case of necrotising

fasciitis discovered in Stobhill Hospital this week during an internal

operation on a leukemia patient did not involve the infection. The

patient died from leukemia.

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