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Eurosurveillance, Volume 7, Issue 34, 21 August 2003
Articles

Citation style for this article: Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies in sheep and goats – answers from the European Commission. Euro Surveill. 2003;7(34):pii=2280. Available online: http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=2280

Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies in sheep and goats - answers from the European Commission

Editorial team (eurowkly@hpa.org.uk), Eurosurveillance editorial office

The European Commission has issued a series of answers to a selection of questions on Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE), the family of illnesses that includes Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle, and scrapie in sheep and goats (http://europa.eu.int/rapid/start/cgi/guesten.ksh?p_action.gettxt=gt&doc=MEMO/03/157|0|RAPID&lg=EN&display). The document states that scrapie is not considered to be transmissible to humans or to pose a risk to man on the basis of the available data. European Union (EU) legislation to prevent the spread and transmission of BSE, however, does apply also to sheep and goats as a precautionary measure (for example, removal of specific risk material like brain and spinal cord since 2000, ban of feeding mammalian meat and bone meal (MBM) to ruminants since 1994).

The principal transmission route of BSE is thought to be MBM derived from material from infected animals. BSE has never been found in sheep living in fields. During the 1980s and early 1990s sheep in the United Kingdom and elsewhere were partially fed with feedstuffs containing the same type of contaminated MBM that was responsible for causing the spread of BSE in cattle. This has caused scientists to question whether BSE might also have infected the population of small ruminants. The feeding of MBM to ruminants has been forbidden in the EU since 1994 (1) and a total ban on feeding MBM to farmed animals has been in place since January 2001 (2).

It has also been known for some time that a BSE-like disease can be experimentally transmitted to sheep by feeding them material derived from the brains of BSE-affected cows. This artificially produced disease in research trials cannot be distinguished from scrapie by examination of clinical symptoms or by rapid tests on the brains. It can only be distinguished with certainty from scrapie by the use of a mouse bioassay, a testing technique that may take up to two years to complete. The limited number of mouse bioassays that have been done on natural scrapie cases so far have failed to yield a BSE-like strain, and to date there is no evidence of the existence of BSE in the sheep and goat population under natural conditions. New evidence is constantly being reviewed by the EU scientific committees.

The most recent opinions of the Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) on BSE in small ruminants were adopted in April 2002 (http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sc/ssc/out257_en.pdf and http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sc/ssc/out256_en.pdf), updating previous opinions of October 2001 (http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sc/ssc/out234_en.pdf), February 2001 (http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sc/ssc/out170_en.pdf), and September 1998 (http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sc/ssc/out24_en.html).

The opinion reaffirms the SSC's view that there is no evidence that BSE is present in small ruminants under field conditions. It issues a range of recommendations in terms of specified risk material, use of rapid tests, individual identification, breeding for resistance, flock certification, and culling measures. It also describes how a combination of approaches might be used to protect public health in the event of BSE being confirmed in small ruminants under field conditions.

More information on TSE and BSE is available from the Food Safety section of the European Commission website (http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/bse/index_en.html).

References:
  1. Commission decision of 29 January 1999 amending for the second time Decision 94/381/EC concerning certain protection measures with regard to bovine spongiform encephalopathy and the feeding of mammalian derived protein (notified under document number C(1999) 198) (Text with EEA relevance) (1999/129/EC). Official Journal of the European Communities 1999; L 41/14: 16. 2. 1999. (http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/pri/en/oj/dat/1999/l_041/l_04119990216en00140015.pdf)
  2. Commission decision of 27 December 2000 prohibiting the use of certain animal by-products in animal feed (notified under document number C(2000) 4143) (Text with EEA relevance) (2001/25/EC). Official Journal of the European Communities 2001; L 6/16: 11.1.2001. (http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/bse/bse22_en.pdf)

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