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Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
(Mad Cow Disease)

The recent cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in the United Kingdom have caused some concern among servicemembers currently stationed or deployed to Europe. The first cases among cattle were detected in 1986 but the epidemic has rapidly subsided since peaking in 1992. A much smaller number of cases of BSE have occurred among cattle on the European continent. Nearly one hundred humans in the United Kingdom have developed a neurological disease called Variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (vCJD) thought to be due to consumption of beef contaminated with brain and spinal cord tissue from cattle with BSE. Since March 1996, the Department of Defense has not purchased beef from the United Kingdom for commissaries, dining halls, or post exchange outlets. All beef sold in these facilities is imported from the United States which has no cases of BSE in its cattle and no cases of vCJD in humans. Those individuals who are concerned about BSE and choose to eat off the local economy, should consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travel Advisory on BSE. In the advisory the CDC notes that the relative risk of becoming infected with vCJD is very small. They estimate that the chances of contracting vCJD is less than one in 10 billion servings, if at all.

Additionally, there is a recently announced ban on blood donations from all persons who have lived for six months or longer in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996. Some service members and their families may be affected by this ban. This deferral was originally implemented as a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of the blood supply against the risk of contamination by BSE, because there is no known blood-screening test. Even though there is no evidence that vCJD or BSE can be transmitted through blood products, deferral will be continued as a precautionary preventive step.

For more information on BSE and vCJD please visit the following sites:

ArmyLINK News: Army Surgeon General Bans European Beef

Food and Drug Administration Information Page on BSE

National Center for Infectious Diseases BSE and CJD Information and Resources

National Institute of Health CJD Fact Sheet

Red Cross Blood Donor Restrictions

United States Army Center for Health Promotion & Preventive Medicine BSE Information

U.S. Department of Agriculture Information Page on BSE

World Health Organization Fact Sheet on BSE