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Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

The British Government anounced on 20th March 1996 that there may be a link between Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy B.S.E. and Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease C.J.D in man.

The Goverment appointed expert committee on B.S.E - the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee S.E.A.C. - has examined 10 recent deaths from C.J.D. in Britain, and has concluded that these deaths could have been caused by eating beef infected with BS.E..

The 10 cases of C.J.D. had the following characteristics:

  1. the average age of the patients was less than 42- rather than the typical age of 63.
  2. the duration of the illness was 13 months rather than the normal 6 months.
  3. the patients showed anxiety and depression which was not typical of previous C.J.D. cases.
  4. their brain tissues had more prion proteins - the causual agent of C.J.D.- and in a different part of the brain than previous cases.

What is B.S.E. ?

B.S.E. stands for Bovine Spongiform Encehalopathy, it is also known as " Mad Cow Disease". It is a degenerative disease of the brain found in cows, leading to disorientation followed by dementia and death. It was first recorded in Britain in 1985.
The origins of B.S.E. are unclear. One theory is that B.S.E. started after cattle were fed the remains of sheep infected with Scrapie. Scrapie is a disease of sheep which causes a spongiform encephalopathy. A spongiform encephalopathy in domestic cats has been reported in Britain since the emergance of B.S.E.. As yet there is no evidence to link B.S.E. to the feline spongiform encephalopathy. B.S.E. has also been reported in ruminants kept in British zoos.

What is C.J.D. ?

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease C.J.D. is a spongiform encephalopathy which is found in humans. The disease leaves microscopic sponge like holes in the brain. The symptoms are confusion followed by dementia. There is no treatment and the disease is always fatal.

New Regulations

The British Government has announced new regulations in response to the S.E.A.C. findings:
  1. carcasses of cattle aged over 30 months must be deboned in specially
  2. licensed plants supervised by the Meat Hygiene Service and the trimmings kept out of the food chain.
  3. the use of mammalian meat and bonemeal in food for all farm animals should be banned. The use of ruminant remains in cattle feed was banned in 1988.
  4. the S.E.A.C. are to consider what further research is necessary.
The British Government has not ruled out the option of slaughtering the entire U.K. herd of 11 milion cattle.

Geoff Potts, B.V.Sc, M.R.C.V.S
Editor Vet On-Line

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