France 'ignored first wave of mad cow disease'

2nd July 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 1 (AFP) - The first wave of mad cow disease occurred undetected in France in the 1980s and by early 2000 the disease had spread to hundreds of thousands of cows, a study published in the journal Veterinary Research shows.

PARIS, July 1 (AFP) - The first wave of mad cow disease occurred undetected in France in the 1980s and by early 2000 the disease had spread to hundreds of thousands of cows, a study published in the journal Veterinary Research shows.

Though there had been "uncertainty over the beginning of the epidemic, we showed that the French BSE (mad cow) epidemic in the late 1980s was completely undetected, and only the second wave, after 1990, was observed," the two French researchers found.

Brain wasting mad cow disease showed up in Britain during the 1980s and sparked worldwide concern because of its human form variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (vCJD), which has now killed some 150 people, mostly in Britain.

On Thursday, a 55-year-old Frenchman became what could be the seventh victim of vCJD in France, officials said, when he died in a hospital outside Paris.

In an article in the June issue of the peer-reviewed journal entitled "The unrecognised French BSE epidemic," Virginie Supervie and Dominique Costagliola said only 103 cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy had been detected by "passive surveillance" by 2000.

In fact, "we estimated that there were 301,200 cattle infected by the BSE agent," the researchers, with the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), said.

The scientists took into account several factors, among them the average age of the animal when the first symptoms appeared, the incubation period and how old the cow was when slaughtered.

Even though the number of infected animals in France was very high, there was no corresponding jump in the number of human cases because the consumed beef came from young cows.

Cows here are generally slaughtered by the time they are 24 months old, but the average incubation period of BSE is around five years. As a result, most of the animals were already dead before they showed symptoms, the researchers said.

But 47,000 older animals nonetheless made their way into the food chain before French authorities in 1996 outlawed the use of certain contaminated tissue parts.

While BSE was first detected in Britain in 1986, the declaration of the illness only became obligatory in France in 1990.

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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