Three Manitobans— including a prominent men's curler— are suspected of havingthe brain-wasting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Doctors from the Brandon Regional Health Authorityhave referred three suspected cases of CJD for further testing. They include Neil Andrews, 58, a two-time senior provincial curling champion from Brandon.

Health officials say they don'tbelieve the cases are linked, butnoted that a cluster of cases is even rarer than CJD itself.

"Even for rare events, they happen in random occurrences, so you don't expect them to space themselves out one every year neatly," Dr. Joel Kettner, the province's chief medical officer of health,said Friday.

"It's often, if you watch long enough— as we are watching this disease over several years— that you're going to get sporadic, random clusters."

Cases of the disease can only be confirmedafter an autopsy is done on the brain of a deceased patient, according to information onthe World Health Organization's website.

As of Nov. 1,six cases of CJD had been reported in Canada this year, says the Public Health Agency of Canada. Since 1997, 720 cases of the degenerative and fatal disease have been referred to the agency.

Andrewswas diagnosed with a suspected case of CJD in September after he had trouble keeping his balance while curling. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., later told him he likely had CJD.

In Brandon, friends ofthe curlersaid Friday they want to rename a stadium Andrews Field in his honour.

"He certainly has put a lot of involvement into amateur sports around the area, as well as Manitoba and certainly moving on to Canada with curling," friend Rod Zenk said.

Earlier this week, a hospital in London, Ont., suspended surgeries for two days when one neurosurgery patient was suspected of having CJD. Preliminary test results came back negative on Tuesday.

About 30 cases of "classical" CJD are diagnosed in Canada every year.

It's the more common and sporadic of the two types of CJD, which occurs spontaneously, sometimes because the disease is hereditary. Less than one per cent of the time, it is contracted through hospital or medical procedures.

Cases not related to BSE: expert

The second type, variant CJD, is associated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also knownasmad-cow disease.

But aleading Canadian BSE expert said the public shouldn't be worried about the three suspected cases.

"[Classical CJD] is a disease that has nothing to do with BSE," said Chris Clark, an assistant professor at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.

"To date there's only ever been one case of new-variant CJD in Canada."

That case involveda Saskatoon man who died in 2002, and"who, it turned out, had lived a portion of his life in Britain during the 1980s and was probably exposed to it back then,"Clark added.

Still,some beef industry officialsexpressed worrythe public may confuse the two strains of the disease.

Brad Wildeman,a director with the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said the industry has done everything possible to make beef safe.

Clark said it could be some time before a final diagnosis of the three suspected Manitoba casesis be made, but in the meantime, consumers should continue to eat beef without fear.

With files from the Canadian Press