BSE in Portugal
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BSE upsurge in Portugal?
Record set on dura mater graft
Professor calls for BSE screening
nv CJD scope five years away, British expert says
Fledgling disease posed 'major problem' -- Inquiry
22 tons of mad cow blood spills on highway

BSE in Portugal: what ils going on?

News clips and Listserve opinions 22 Sept 98
Agricultural commissioner Franz Fischler announced that the European Commission wil take ''drastic measures against Portugal, including an export ban,'' reports the Dutch agricultural daily Agrarisch Dagblad.

Fischler says to be worried about the growing BSE-numbers in Portugal. ''Developments are really problematical. In July alone there were more BSE-cases in Portugal than in 1997 in a whole year.''

At the August 24 Iceland meeting, poster talk #54, the Portugese reported that the first case was reported in June 1990; that the first 6 cases were UK live imports, that 1994 saw the first 12 local BSE cases, 14 cases in 1995, 31 in 1996, 29 in 1997, and 4 cases to 1 Mar 98, for a total of 97 in 203 samples, writing:

"The decrease in 1997 may indicte that the epidemiological peak was reached."

The Chief Veterinary Officer of Portugal resigned in the beginning of this summer, in some people's opinion, because he did not want to have the responsibility of the non-enforcement of EC regulations on BSE, given the lack of help that his own administration provided.

BSE figures for Portugal

source Office Internationale des Epizooties, Paris
1988:0 
1989:0 
1990:1(c) 
1991:1(c) 
1992:1(c) 
1993:3(c) 
1994:12  
1995:14 
1996:29 
1997:30 
1998:60(a)
(a) Portugal - date of initial detection of the last case: 29 July 1998 = (date of confirmation of diagnosis: 7 September 1998);
(c) imported cases

Note Portugal was reporting 2 cases per month in early 1998 yet somehow this rate has suddenly quadrupled just as it was tapering off. Questions arise as to whether there has been under-reporting all along, here as well as other countries in Europe.

The OIE site gives the worldwide total cumulative total is given here as 781, exclusive of UK. The Swiss have reported 276 cases, making them the reporting capitol of Europe.

8150, 4391, 1290 are the numbers given for the UK for the last 3 years, provisionally to 1 Aug 98 for the last two years. A simple-minded adjustment of the 1290 figure [proportionally by 12/7], gives 2,211 for the current year. The under-reporting calculation by Dealler at the Iceland meeting was 80% for 1996, giving 3,980 clinical cases for 1998, so in a single year 510% of all other countries over all years in just one year.

Portugal is showing 12, 14, 29, 30, 60 where the same adjustment would give 103 cases for 1998, under-reporting would be extra. It has not been reported in what year they stopped importing MBM.

Portugal president urges strict mad cow checks

September 23, 1998 Reuters
LISBON -- President Jorge Sampaio was cited, at a meeting of farmers and residents in the lower Alentejo region in southern Portugal late on Tuesday, as urging strict compliance with sanitary checks to prevent the spread of mad cow disease in Portugal, adding, "It is important that all sanitary steps are taken so that there is no alarmism. We need rigorous information and ruthless controls."

Senior EU officials were cited as saying that the European Commission is considering taking legal action against Portugal over what it sees as an alarming increase in mad cow disease this year. According to official Portuguese statistics there have, according to this story, been more than 50 new cases this year of mad cow disease, or BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), taking the total number found in the country to 147.

Portuguese farm minister Fernando Gomes da Silva was cited as admitting that his government was in contact with Brussels over the issue but stressed Portugal did not officially export any beef. However, veterinary officials were cited as telling Portuguese media on Tuesday night that Portugal does export beef, and that Spain was one destination. The Commission's fears are based on an inspection report carried out by EU veterinary experts earlier this year. According to EU officials cited in this story, the report highlighted serious deficiencies in Portugal's controls over animal feed.

This story explained that the report has now been passed to the Portuguese authorities, who are expected to reply before the end of the week. The Commission's next step will depend on the reply it receives. The most likely response from Brussels will be a threat of court action, according to EU officials.

Portugal's opposition centre-right Social Democratic Party and rightwing Popular Party have called for an emergency parliamentary debate on mad cow disease in Portugal, state television RTP1 reported. Britain is still fighting to get its worldwide beef export ban lifted, more than two years after it was imposed by the EU following Britain's admission of a possible link between BSE and a new form of the fatal human disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD). There have been more than 170,000 cases of mad cow disease in Britain and around 200 new cases are still being reported every month.

Portugal bans suspect animal feed from food chain

Septmeber 24, 1998 Reuters David Brough
LISBON -- Portugal's cabinet was cited as issuing a decree on Thursday banning the use of suspect animal feed in the food chain in order to stamp out the spread of mad cow disease. The decree was aimed at halting the spread of mad cow disease, or BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), officials said.

A government statement was quoted as saying, "This diploma bans the entry, in any form, into the human and animal food chain... of materials at risk from cattle, sheep and goats."

Portugal joins France and Britain as the only countries in the EU that have so far formally banned the use of potentially harmful animal feed in the animal food chain, Portuguese Agriculture Minister Fernando Gomes da Silva was cited as telling reporters.

Gomes da Silva said a long incubation period of some six years explained the latest surge in cases and blamed the previous Social Democrat government for failing to take adequate steps to stop the spread of the disease.

President Jorge Sampaio was cited on Tuesday urging strict compliance with checks to prevent the spread of mad cow disease in Portugal and to avoid panic in the population, adding, "I expect the number of cases (of BSE) to increase until the year 2000 and then fall. It is important that all sanitary steps are taken so that there is no alarmism."

Record incubation for dura mater graft

Robert Roussel  17 Sept 98 Listserve opinion
[This comment deals with a product made with a process no longer used whose risks were not understood at the time]
"S»bastien Roussel, killed at age 19 on February 5, 1998 by a Lyodura dura mater graft transplanted on July 27, 1981. Autopsy reveals Iatrogenic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, post implant of cadaveric dura mater at age 2 following surgery for a low grade cerebellum astrocytoma cystic. His case is the longest following transplant in medical history, 16 years, 6 months, 5 days."

"Lyodura is manufactured by a German lab by the name of B Braun Melsungen AG, the 14th largest supplier to hospital around the world. This product is a commercially processed dura mater of human origin principally used in neurosurgery but having other surgical applications. They claimed having sold 1 million units around the world. Production started in 1969 up until 1996. The product was a disaster especially in Japan."

Professor calls for BSE screening

PA News Thu, Sep 10, 1998 By John von Radowitz, Science Correspondent
A senior scientific adviser to the Government broke ranks with his colleagues today by suggesting that cattle slaughtered for human consumption should be screened for BSE. Professor John Collinge, from Imperial College, London, said a simple chemical test was available which could be used to carry out the study in a few weeks. Yet the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had shown no interest in it.

MAFF is soon to start research aimed at discovering whether cows are carrying the disease without showing symptoms. But critics say testing for sub-clinical BSE does not answer claims that infected cattle are going unreported and ending up in abattoirs.

During a heated discussion at the British Association Festival of Science today the Government's greatest critic Professor Richard Lacey -- who first warned the world of the human risk from BSE in 1991 -- made a strong plea for the mass screening of cattle brains at slaughterhouses.

"I know full well from farmers and vets that large numbers of infected animals are being hidden," he said. "Why, oh why, has this survey work not been done?"

Professor Lacey found an unlikely ally in Professor Collinge, a member of the influential Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee which helps shape government policy on BSE and CJD. He said while it was probably true that the BSE epidemic was coming to an end, there would be no harm in making sure. "That's something we could do very rapidly," said Professor Collinge. "You could do it in a few weeks and it's very cheap. It would only cost a few pounds to screen a couple of dozen animals. "I think it's probably right that we're looking at the tail end of the epidemic but I'd like to know."

Two SEAC colleagues who were at the Festival at Cardiff University today, chairman Professor John Pattison and Professor Roy Anderson from Oxford University, both disagreed that a mass screening study should be carried out. Professor Anderson pointed out that to be meaningful it would require a very large sample and would cost too much. [Collinge is funded by the Wellcome Trust, a private foundation; permission is required from the government to access the slaughterhouses to take samples. -- webmaster]

He said: "Most diseases are under-reported. Undoubtedly there was considerable under-reporting of BSE in the early 1980s and there may be some under-reporting now. But I can't see how any research group such as ours would get any mileage from suggesting that the disease was declining if it wasn't."

Professor Collinge said there was no evidence to support the theory that BSE arose from scrapie and sheep remains used in cattle feed, as had originally been proposed. He believed it had emerged spontaneously, as classic CJD did in humans, but then recycling of the infectious agent caused "amplification to produce an epidemic".

Professor Lacey held a similar view, arguing that a precursor disease predated BSE and was probably also responsible for classic CJD. All the experts, including Professor Lacey, agreed that fears about BSE in sheep were unfounded. [reporter confusion -- webmaster] Evidence indicated that if BSE was present in sheep it only affected about one animal in a thousand.

Opinion (webmaster): Someone from Wales who attended the recent Cardiff meeting, wrote saying:

"Professor Anderson, the epidemiology modeller, at the recent conference in Cardiff, disclosed that 2, 200 sheep had been tested in the UK. These had died of suspicious causes, ie, were 'downer' sheep. Nine were found to have a spongiform encephalopathy [0.4%, extrapolates to 180,000 of the 44 million UK sheep, ignoring selection effects].

Prof. Lacey immediately asked why, if they had decided to test sheep for scrapie, did they not test cattle for BSE (as the level of under-reporting in the UK of BSE has not been measured). Incidentally, Lacey's new book is out: Poison on the Plate. It basically reviews the history of his involvement in BSE and other food-borne illnesses. Available from Metro Ltd, 19 Gerard St, London. 0171 734 1411.

Anderson replied that the cost would be vast, which was immediately denied by Prof. Collinge. There followed a heated argument in which Anderson claimed testing cows was not necessary and Lacey implied Anderson was in the pocket of industry. (There was a report at the August 98 Iceland conference about under-reporting that Anderson had not considered.)

Anderson said that mean nvCJD incubation period was 9 years. This seemed odd to scientists in attendance -- from other TSEs such as kuru, one might expect it to be over 25 years. The political advantage of a low figure like 9 years is that it results in the total number of cases of nvCJD pencilling out much lower. "

Comment (webmaster):

The quotation above expresses opinions of a scientist who attended the meeting. Note carefully that Lacey is not quoted as saying Anderson was in "pocket of industry" only that the correspondent thought that Lacey implied this. People have long wondered if the great reluctance of MAFF to release data to Anderson's group was not a carefully staged public relations hoax. If not a mole for MAFF, why then the fuss over screening -- what harm can there be in more data? If we relied on modelling theory alone, the world would still be flat.

The record is ambiguous on Anderson's monetary links to MAFF. Accepting research money per se does not put his epidemic modelling group in the "pocket of industry" though potential conflicts of interest should always be disclosed. Note on page 800 of Phil Trans R Soc London B 1997 352:781-801: "C.A.D., N.M.F., A.C.G., and R.M.A. thank the Wellcome Trust and MAFF for research grant support" as does the second article, page 837 and a third article on page 1655. Three co-authors in Nature 1996 382: 779-788 are "grateful for research funding from MAFF" and one JWW on the maternal cohert study "thanks MAFF for research funding" Applied Stat.1977 46:321-344. In these latter articles, authors receiving support from MAFF are broken out from those receiving support from the Wellcome Trust.

The cost of immunological testing cows amounts to absolute tuppence relative to the 5.5 billion dollars spent on the epidemic so far -- or the cost of treating one more case of nvCJD. Anderson 's remarks could be interpreted as fighting for resumption of UK exports, not for public health. The Europeans are unlikely to go along with no sampling.

There is little value in modelling the nominal BSE epidemic (cows officially recorded as having clinical BSE). This is smaller than the total clinical BSE epidemic because of on-farm burial, off-farm carcass dumping, non-reporting at the slaughterhouse, smuggled or trans-shipped exports, etc. etc.

In turn, this is far smaller than the total BSE epidemic, which must include preclinical animals (infectious, but slaughtered before developing behavioral disorders) and subclinical animals (infectious, but never going clinical during their lifespan).

The scrapie epidemic has persisted in sheep for 250 years despite a lack of offal feeding -- why should BSE be any different? Could BSE not persist indefinitely subclinically? -- maybe we were just lucky that some scrapie was observable within sheep lifespans. Reported clinical BSE is an unreliable proxy for infectivity levels. Animals can be highly infectious in bioassays without displaying the slightest overt symptoms.

The real epidemic is measured by specific infectivity: how many infection-transmitting doses per thousand cows (or femtomoles of rogue prion per gram of meat). Before beef exports can be safely begin, the UK might reasonably be asked to be BSE-free.

As a practical matter, BSE-free means demonstrating, using the most sensitive available immunological tests on a large random sample, that only close-to-background levels of prion disease still occur. (Sporadic and familial TSE are believed by molecular biologists to occur in roughly one per million individuals in any species of mammal, just like other disorders, so the EU cannot ask for zero.)

CJD judgment five years away, British expert says

Reuters World Report Thu, Sep 10, 1998  By Mike Peacock
CARDIFF - It will be five years at least before scientists will know how many people could fall victim to the human version of mad cow disease, a BSE expert said on Thursday. Professor Roy Anderson, a member of the government committee investigating spongiform encephalopathies, the group of brain diseases that includes mad cow disease, said that because the disease could lie dormant so long it was impossible now to guess how many people may fall victim to it.

"It will probably take five years until we can say anything more sensible," Anderson told reporters at the annual science festival. "We have to learn better to say I don't know." To date, there have been 27 cases in Britain of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD), which rots away the brain causing an inevitable and anguished death. The discovery that humans could develop a form of the fatal brain-wasting disease from eating BSE-infected beef sparked an international scare in 1996 and the European Union banned British beef exports worldwide.

Anderson said he was still predicting the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) epidemic in cows would be "at an extremely low level by 2001." More than a million cows have been slaughtered since 1996 in an attempt to wipe it out. One of the top experts on brain-wasting diseases, Professor John Collinge of Imperial College London, agreed that the BSE epidemic is on the wane. "We are moving to the absolute end of this thing," he said. After research with mice, Collinge last year verified that CJD in humans is the same as BSE in cows and that the new strain of CJD was probably caused by exposure to infected cattle. He said the main priority was to find a treatment for nvCJD. "For several hundred million pounds, you could possibly find a treatment for the disease," he said.

But in a sometimes highly-charged press conference, Professor Richard Lacey of Leeds University, the first person to warn BSE could be passed to humans, said the incidence of BSE could be much higher and repeatedly called for mass screening of cows. He said a reduction in compensation to farmers whose cattle contracted BSE meant there was now a financial incentive not to report a suspected animal. "We know BSE exists in cows but we don't know the incidence," he said, dismissing claims that BSE was definitely on the decline. "I agree entirely (with Anderson) about the impossibility now of predicting what is going to happen to the UK population," Lacey said. "But I disagree on the interpretation of BSE figures."

All the experts said a warning that BSE could be present in sheep, was not supported by the evidence. Professor Jeffrey Almond, a third member of the government's spongiform encephalopathy advisory committee (SEAC), told the BBC on Monday there was a theoretical risk that sheep could be infected with BSE. The government rushed to play down the claims and Armstrong said more than 2,250 dead sheep had been tested, only nine had been found to have a scrapie-type illness and in none of those were there signs of BSE. Lacey said even if BSE had got into sheep, humans should be "invulnerable." Humans are not thought to be at risk from the conventional form of scrapie that has infected sheep for centuries.

Opinion (webmaster):

Probably very few scientists would actually eat a serving of CNS or spinal column from a sheep incubating scrapie. The so-called evidence for non-transmissibility to humans consists of a pair of unpersuasive epidemiological studies that likely would not have detected a 5-10% contribution to sporadic CJD. Neither study determined resolving power, the minimum level detectable with statistical significance.

People also talk about the lack of transmission during 1730-1920 era when the human lifespan averaged 42 years and neurology was such that not one single case of CJD (or Alzheimer) had ever been detected. How could low levels of scrapie-to-human possibly have been detected under these circumstances? Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

What we need to settle the matter are human volunteers (and who better than these experts) who will eat a hearty portion of clinically confirmed scrapie brain. This offer generally quiets down people who say scrapie doesn't transmit to human -- they would never dream of personally following up on their recommendations for the masses. They might eat lamb all right, but that 1 bad sheep in 1000 -- the chances are, someone else will be eating it. And this is equally true with chronic wasting disease officialdom -- how much elk sausage do they really eat?

Fledgling disease posed 'major problem'

PA News Thu, Sep 10, 1998  By Alex Richardson
A former Chief Veterinary Officer today told how he feared BSE could become a "major problem" soon after the discovery of the disease in cattle. Howard Rees, who was in charge of the state veterinary service from August 1980 until May 1988, said he was concerned about the impact it might have on the cattle industry. Mr Rees was giving evidence at the reopened public inquiry into BSE at government offices in Lambeth, south London.

He said he first became aware of BSE in late November 1986, when a case was reported in a Friesian-Holstein cow at a farm in Kent. Further cases were reported early in 1987, and by May of that year there were five confirmed cases in four separate herds. He told the inquiry: "I didn't share with scientists their enthusiasm for the discovery of a new disease. "I thought if this wasn't an isolated case we might have a major problem. "I was concerned about the effect on the industry."

Mr Rees said he quickly decided that discovering how the disease was passed on was the key to tackling it. He said: "If we wanted to control the disease, we had to get to the cause. "At that stage it was basically an animal health problem. It was a new problem and if we were going to have any more problems we had to get to the cause." He said that by May or June of 1987 he had decided that BSE was not an isolated incident. He said: "It became obvious it was not an individual problem, we were facing a national problem."

Ministers were first informed on June 5 1987, less than a week before the general election, Mr Rees said, when he sent a submission to Donald Thompson, a parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods. Mr Rees said: "It was clear at that stage we were facing a serious problem and it was right we should alert ministers to a difficult problem we were facing and what we were doing about it."

Mr Rees said at that stage there was no evidence of a connection between BSE in cattle and CJD in humans. He said: "We had no evidence (of a connection). "We had had a similar disease in a foodstuff animal (scrapie in sheep) for 250 years." But he agreed that even if a connection did exist he would not have expected it to be identifiable at that stage because of the long incubation period of the disease.

Mr Rees told the inquiry that by May 1988 he had felt it was time to "bite the bullet" and recommend a ban on the use of meat and bonemeal in animal foodstuffs. He said foodstuffs had been suspected as the source of BSE for some time, although manufacturers had been sceptical. But in May 1988 Mr Rees received a report from the head of the Central Veterinary Laboratory's epidemiology department, Dr John Wilesmith, which highlighted "strong links" between meat and bonemeal in foodstuffs and BSE. He said: "I felt it was time to bite the bullet and say we should now ban the use of meat and bonemeal."

Mr Rees suggested trying to secure a voluntary ban, but the then Agriculture Secretary John MacGregor later decided a compulsory ban was needed. Mr Rees told the public inquiry that at that stage the risk to humans from BSE was still thought to be low. It was believed it would be far harder for the disease to transfer from cattle to humans than it had been for it to cross from sheep to cattle, he said.

Asked by inquiry chairman Sir Nicholas Phillips whether, earlier in 1988, he had had any reservations about the official advice that the risk to humans was low, Mr Rees said: "No, based on knowledge of what had happened with scrapie over 200 years, we had no reason to think this would behave differently." Mr Rees told the inquiry that earlier in 1988 it had been decided to recommend to ministers that a slaughter and compensation policy should be introduced for cattle with BSE, and it should be made a "notifiable" disease.

He said: "We wanted to get a grip on all cases by making it a legal obligation for farmers to report cases. "We also would be able to dispose of the carcases." Mr Rees said at that stage BSE was still regarded as an animal rather than human health problem.

Earlier in his evidence, Mr Rees told the inquiry he had been worried a lack of funding would hamper efforts to control BSE. Twice, requests for more money from the Agriculture Development Advisory Service to be made available to the Central Veterinary Laboratory for BSE research were turned down. Mr Rees said: "I was extremely disappointed we weren't able to have money allocated to get on with the experiments we wanted to get on with. "I thought there should be more flexibility. They had said the total spend on animal diseases should be reduced by 20% but you can't really regulate animal diseases that way."

Mr Rees said the Central Veterinary Laboratory had been able to carry out its experiments by switching resources from other projects. He concluded his evidence by telling the inquiry he had not changed his diet as a result of the BSE scare. The next sitting of the BSE public inquiry will be on September 17. It is due to report by June 30 next year.

Mad Cow Blood Spills on Highway

September 23, 1998  AP video of clean-up
LONDON (AP) „ Eight people were taken to a hospital today after a tanker carrying 22 tons of blood from cattle that were destroyed in an effort to eradicate mad cow disease spilled on a highway. A tanker was on a highway near Birmingham in central England when it leaked, police said. Two of the highway's three lanes were closed while the blood was removed, causing long lines of traffic.

Police Inspector Clive Isherwood said authorities believe the blood came from older cows that were destroyed as part of the government's campaign to eradicate bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. The blood was also to be destroyed.

``It is not known if the blood is infected with BSE, but we are taking all precautions necessary to ensure the safety of the public,'' Isherwood said.

An official from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity said chances were remote that the blood was infected since many cattle over 36 months old were destroyed as a preventative measure and did not actually carry the disease. [?]

Police said eight people who had been splashed with blood „ four firefighters, two police officers, the tanker driver and his wife „ were taken to Walsall Manor Hospital to be cleaned up.

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