Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies
For information on diseases related to BSE, see our
TSE disease briefing ».
What is BSE?
BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) causes degeneration of the brain and spinal cord of cattle.
Affected animals may show nervousness or aggression, incoordination,
decreased milk production, or loss of body weight. Cattle with BSE die from the disease.
The cause of BSE is not completely understood and there is no vaccine or treatment currently available.
What is CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease)?
CJD is a variant form of BSE that experts in the United Kingdom believe might be related to BSE.
The possibility that BSE can spread to humans has focused increased attention on the desirability of national CJD surveillance.
Classic CJD occurs each year at a rate of 1 to 2 cases per million people though out the world, including countries where
BSE has never occurred and among vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Current evidence suggests that
variant CJD (vCJD) is a new condition linked to BSE.
vCJD seen in the United Kingdom affects younger persons
(median age at death around 29 years) and has clinical features that differ from Classic CJD.
These features include prominent psychiatric or sensory symptoms,
delayed onset of neurologic abnormalities, duration of illness of at least 6 months, and a diffusely abnormal brain test.
The incubation period for humans with vCJD is unknown since it is a relatively new disease.
However, it is likely that the incubation period will be measured in many years or decades.
What is my risk of getting vCJD from our food supply?
The agent that causes BSE has been found only in the brain tissue, spinal cord, and retina of cows.
There is no evidence of infection detected in milk or muscle tissue — the cattle products that are consumed by humans.
What efforts are being made to protect our food supply?
Since 1990 the USDA has had an aggressive surveillance program in place to ensure detection and a swift response in the event of the introduction of BSE in this country. In the last year the USDA tested 20,526 head of cattle for BSE, which is triple the level of the previous year of 2002. The fact that the cow in Washington state was identified is evidence that the surveillance plan is working. The USDA has been training and planning for several years in the event that BSE was identified in the US. As part of that planning, a response plan was developed which has now been activated. Mississippi has active surveillance program as well and more information on that program can be obtained by calling the Mississippi Board of Animal Health at 1-888-646-8731.
Since the identification of BSE in the UK, many restrictions have been in place regarding importation of ruminants into the
US from countries where BSE is known to exist and ruminant feeding practices.
More information on these restrictions can be found at the USDA Animal Inspection Service.
What steps are being taken to prevent the spread of this disease?
It is important to realize that this disease does not spread easily. There is no evidence that BSE spreads from contact between unrelated cattle or contact between cattle and other species (including humans).
| Where can I get more information on BSE and vCJD?|
Call the Mississippi Board of Animal Health at 1-888-646-8731 regarding surveillance for BSE in Mississippi.
Useful information on CJD, vCJD, and BSE can be found on the CDC web site ».