What is atypical BSE?

Atypical BSE is simply a case where the disease pattern and expression doesn’t fit what’s typically expected. For example, atypical cases of BSE may not be transmitted through infected feed like classic BSE, but rather may occur sporadically among older cattle. Importantly, BSE is a diminishing disease worldwide and atypical cases are even rarer – just more than 60 total cases have been identified. Three of the four U.S. BSE cases were diagnosed as atypical.


Should I be worried that this case of BSE is atypical?

Experts agree BSE is not a public health risk thanks to strict safeguards implemented by the government and cattle community over the last two-plus decades. BSE – typical or otherwise – exists in specific tissues, such as the spinal cord and brain, of older animals with this rare disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits these specified risk materials from the food supply.

 A World Organization for Animal Health review panel studied atypical BSE and concluded that the risk was no different than for BSE and no changes were needed in the measures that protect animal and human health from this disease.


Do typical testing methods work for detecting atypical BSE?

Identification in April 2012 of the fourth U.S. BSE case, which was atypical, shows USDA’s targeted surveillance program and testing methods are working. BSE is rare in the United States and diminishing worldwide, demonstrating that animal health control measures overall have been effective in moving this disease toward eradication.


What causes atypical BSE?

There has been a lot of speculation about the causes of atypical BSE – including a theory that it may develop spontaneously in older cattle. The truth is, BSE is rare and atypical BSE is even rarer, making it hard to study and reach definitive conclusions. What we do know is current BSE safeguards are effective at protecting both human health and the cattle herd from this disease.


How is atypical BSE spread if not through infected feed?

We actually don’t know if atypical BSE is transmissible at all. But we do know that BSE – atypical otherwise – is not contagious. The fact that BSE incidence on the whole continues to decline suggests current animal health control measures are working.

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