Author(s): Nathanson N, Wilesmith J, Griot C
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Abstract Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) or prion disease of cattle first recognized in 1986 in the United Kingdom, where it produced a common source epidemic that peaked in January 1993 and has subsided markedly since that time. The epidemic began simultaneously at many geographic locations and was traced to contamination of meat and bone meal (MBM), a dietary supplement prepared from rendering of slaughterhouse offal. It appears that the epidemic was initiated by the presence of the agent of scrapie (a long-standing TSE of sheep) that was first transmitted to cattle, beginning in the early 1980s, when most rendering plants abandoned the use of organic solvents in the preparation of MBM. The epidemic was probably accelerated by the recycling of infected bovine tissues prior to the recognition of BSE. To terminate the epidemic, a prohibition on the feeding of ruminant-derived protein to ruminants was introduced in the United Kingdom in July 1988. The ruminant feed ban accounts for the decline of the epidemic after an interval of about 5 years, approximately equivalent to the average incubation period of BSE. Relatively few cases of BSE have occurred in cattle born after 1993, and it is predicted that the epidemic will terminate about the year 2000 based on an extrapolation of the present declining curve. A comparison of data from the United Kingdom with data from relatively low incidence countries, such as Switzerland, indicates that this epidemic has been mainly confined to the United Kingdom because of a unique concatenation of risk factors, including: 1) a high ratio of sheep to cattle; 2) a relatively high rate of endemic scrapie; 3) the heavy feeding of MBM to dairy cattle; and 4) changes in the rendering process used to prepare MBM. Recently, cases of a variant form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (a TSE of humans) have been reported in the United Kingdom. These cases, at least 10 of which had onset in 1994-1995, are distinguished by their occurrence in subjects under age 40 years, by their clinical presentation, and by their neurohistopathologic picture. The appearance of this novel disease and its concentration in the United Kingdom have raised the question that it might represent the transmission of BSE to humans. However, the cases gave no history indicating an unusual exposure to live cattle, to the preparation of beef products, or of dietary exposure to bovine tissues, and it remains to be determined whether they are associated with BSE.
This article was published in Am J Epidemiol
and referenced in Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense