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Mad Cow Disease shows sharp drop over past three years, UN agency reports

Mad Cow Disease shows sharp drop over past three years, UN agency reports

Examination at a slaughterhouse in Uruguay
In good news on the health front, a United Nations agency today reported an annual 50 per cent drop worldwide over the past three years in cases of Bovine Spongiform Encepalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, blamed for causing a fatal degenerative illness in humans.

From several tens of thousands of cases a little over a decade ago, the number fell to only 474 in 2005, thanks to global measures to detect and eradicate the disease, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

“Amid the current international alarm over avian flu, it is good news that the battle against another worrying disease is being won,” it added, noting that the figure for 2005 compared with 878 in 2004 and 1,646 in 2003.

Only five human deaths from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), believed to be the human form of BSE, were reported worldwide in 2005. All of them were in the United Kingdom, the country most affected by the disease, where nine deaths were registered in 2004 and 18 in 2003.

“It is quite clear that BSE is declining and that the measures introduced to stop the disease are effective. But further success depends on our continuing to apply those measures worldwide,” FAO animal production expert Andrew Speedy said.

The agency stressed the importance of a scientific approach to detect and control the disease, ensuring it is eradicated in affected countries and kept out of unaffected ones.

FAO, together with Swiss experts, has been running courses for specialists from countries as far afield as Serbia, Egypt, Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Paraguay on BSE diagnosis, surveillance and prevention in the animal feed and meat industries.

Also vital is a tracking system that allows animals to be identified all the way from birth to shopping basket, Mr. Speedy said. This has been adopted across Europe but has yet to be implemented partially or fully in a number of other countries.

The latest figures were collected by the Paris-based inter-governmental World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) with which FAO works closely.

BSE was first diagnosed in cattle in 1986 in the UK. Scientists believe it causes human vCJD through consumption of contaminated beef products from infected cattle, resulting in some 150 deaths over the last decade, almost all in the UK.