U.S. Combats Mad Cow Disease with New Action Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, August 23, 2001 (ENS) - The United States will attempt to prevent mad cow disease with a new four part action plan announced today. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, outlined four areas of responsibility - surveillance, protection, research and oversight - within his department.

This effort will be coordinated with other government agencies, the private sector, and the international community to contain this epidemic and assist those affected by it.

Mad cow disease is technically known as bovine spongioform encephalopathy (BSE). First identified in the United Kingdom in 1986, the fatal disease causes progressive neurological degeneration in animals. It is related to a larger family of diseases that causes similar symptoms in humans.


Health and Human Services Secretary, Tommy Thompson (Photo courtesy Office of the Secretary)
"We've already taken numerous precautionary steps at the federal and local levels to prevent BSE from occurring in the U.S. food supply, but we must continue to strengthen our understanding of this disease," said Thompson. "This plan lays out a course of action to expand our understanding of the underlying science of BSE and its potential for transmission to humans."

It is one of a family of diseases called TSEs, or transmissible spongioform encephalopathies, named for the sponge-like gaps that develop in the brain tissue of diseased animals or people. One TSE disease that affects humans is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), and a form of this disease, variant CJD (vCJD), is probably related to the BSE disease of cattle. There is strong scientific evidence that the agent that causes BSE in cattle is the agent that causes vCJD in people.

There have been cases of vCJD reported in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe, believed to occur in people who consumed beef products contaminated with the infective BSE agent. There are no reported cases of BSE or its human equivalent in the United States.

As part of the new plan, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will enhance its current program to identify and investigate possible cases of vCJD, and work with state and local health departments to quickly detected any cases that occur.

CDC will also increase its technical assistance to state and local health personnel, develop new laboratory capacity to support its investigations and enhance its current collaborative agreement with the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western Reserve University. Prions, malformed proteins, are known to cause transmissible spongioform encephalopathies.

The Food and Drug Administration, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), oversees efforts to prevent transmission of BSE and other TSEs through food products.


Cattle feeding (Photo by Brian Prechtel courtesy U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)
The FDA will review and expand its import inspection programs to keep potentially infected food products out of the U.S., and its animal feed inspection program to prevent the use of mammalian protein in feed for ruminant animals such as cows and sheep. Mad cow disease is believed to have spread when the neurological tissue of infected animals was used in cattle feed supplements.

As part of the new plan, the FDA will continually review and upgrade its policies designed to prevent potential exposure to vCJD and other TSEs through blood transfusions and tissue transplantation.

The agency will broaden its policies to prevent potential transmission through FDA regulated products including drugs, medical devices, vaccines and other biological products, cosmetics, food and food additives and dietary supplements.

Under the new action plan, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will more than double its current spending for research on TSEs, including BSE and vCJD, by the end of fiscal year 2002.

"The number of people known to suffer this disease remains extremely small, with no cases involving residents of this country," said Thompson. "The basic facts about BSE and other TSEs are not well understood, so it's important for us to learn more as quickly as we can. And at the same time, we must continue to carry out effective steps to keep BSE out of the American food supply."

More information on BSE is available online:

Health and Human Services Fact Sheet: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2001pres/01fsbse.html
FDA website: http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/bse.html
CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/cjd/cjd.htm