Publication - Advice and guidance

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE): how to spot and report the disease

Published: 29 Oct 2018

Advice on what to do if you suspect there is an outbreak of this infectious disease.

Contents
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE): how to spot and report the disease
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy

Introduction

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a fatal brain disease that affects cattle.

It occurs in adult animals in both sexes, typically in four and or five years olds, but cases have been discovered in younger cattle.

The disease usually lasts for several weeks and is characteristically progressive and fatal.

Latest situation: the last confirmed case of BSE was October 2018, from an animal born in 2013. The case was detected during routine surveillance of fallen stock cattle. The animal was not presented for slaughter and did not enter the food chain.

In March 2019, we consulted on a proposal to amend the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (Scotland) Regulations 2010.

Clinical Signs

Affected cattle do not usually show signs of BSE until they are at least four or five years old.

Cattle with BSE may slowly develop some of the following signs over a period of weeks or months:

  • change in behaviour
  • apprehension or nervousness (flighty)
  • repeated, exaggerated reactions to touch or sound
  • weakness or high stepping of the legs, particularly the hind legs
  • reluctance to cross concrete or drains, turn corners or enter yards or go through doorways
  • aggression towards humans or towards other cattle
  • manic kicking during milking or reluctance to allow milking
  • head held low
  • difficulty in rising, progressing to recumbency (downer cows)
  • tremors under the skin
  • loss of body condition, weight or milk yield
  • excessive nose licking
If you suspect signs of any notifiable diseases, you must immediately notify your Scotland: field service local office at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). Failure to do so is an offence. 

Human health implications

In March 1996, scientists linked BSE to a new form of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease a progressive, fatal, brain disease of humans. BSE has also had a serious impact on the livestock industry. Everything possible should be done to eradicate BSE in cattle. Although the disease is declining rapidly, it is essential that all animals showing signs of BSE are reported and that feed stores are cleaned out regularly to remove any potentially contaminated feed.

Biosecurity

Biosecurity is a set of management practices that collectively reduce the potential for the introduction or spread of animal disease-causing organisms on to and between farms.

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Contact

If you suspect signs of any notifiable diseases, you must immediately notify your Scotland: field service local office at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). Failure to do so is an offence. 

This applies to cattle in your possession or under your control at farms, markets, slaughterhouses or other places. You may wish to take advice from your private veterinary surgeon who will contact APHA if they suspect BSE.