Two US Sheep Confirmed For
Mad Cow-Type Brain Disease

By Randy Fabi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two sheep seized from a Vermont farm last year by US government officials tested positive for a family of rare brain-deforming animal diseases that include scrapie and mad cow disease, the US Department of Agriculture said on Thursday.
USDA said tissues from the infected sheep were found to have a foreign strain of a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy disease (TSE), but the type of TSE was not yet known.
Scrapie and mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), belong to a family of diseases known as TSEs, which cause infected brains to become spongy and eventually wither. No cases of mad cow disease have ever been discovered in the United States.
The family of diseases also includes chronic wasting disease in deer and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.
The sheep were part of a Vermont flock of 125 sheep that were confiscated by the USDA in March 2001 after four animals from a nearby flock tested positive for TSE in July 2000.
USDA has since acquired, destroyed and tested 380 Vermont sheep for animal diseases. USDA said none of the animals entered the animal or human food supply.
The sheep, imported by Vermont farmers from Belgium and the Netherlands, had been under quarantine since 1998, when USDA officials learned the animals might have been exposed in Europe to feed contaminated with mad cow disease.
"USDA's actions to confiscate, sample and destroy these sheep were on target," said Bobby Acord, administrator for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. "As a result of our vigilance, none of these confiscated animals entered the animal or human food supply."
USDA said it could take up to three years for scientists to find out what type of TSE infected the two sheep.
The agency said all sheep that have ever tested positive for TSE were found to have scrapie. But some scientists have started to theorize that sheep could also carry mad cow disease, which affects cattle.
Scrapie is believed to pose no threat to human health. However, the human equivalent of mad cow disease, thought to be transmitted via meat infected with BSE, has claimed around 100 lives.
Concerns that sheep and goats might be infected with mad cow disease have prompted European Union veterinarians to sharply increase testing for TSEs in sheep.
The French government has drafted an ambitious plan to eradicate scrapie from its sheep because of mad cow concerns.

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