Mystery Bovine Paralysis -
Risk To Humans?

From Patricia Doyle, PhD
A ProMED-mail post ProMED-mail is a program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases
[1] Date: Tue 29 Jun 2004
From: ProMED-mail
Source:, 29 Jun 2004 [edited]
Unexplained neurological illness in cattle and sheep - assessing the potential risks to human health
Following a recent announcement by the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) concerning cattle and sheep with an undiagnosed encephalitic illness, the Health Protection Agency were tasked with convening a group of experts to assess the potential risk to human health.
At the meeting, which was held on 21 Jun 2004, experts reviewed information about the original case in a heifer, another unrelated case in a bull, and 20 cases in sheep which had occurred over a 10 year period. They were also informed of a further 7 adult cattle submitted under BSE Orders between 2000 and 2003. Recent laboratory investigations from the original case in a heifer identified an enterovirus as the most likely cause of infection, which is unlikely to pose a threat to human health. Samples from the other cases will now also be tested for enteroviruses.
Dr Dilys Morgan, who led the group on behalf of the Agency, said; "It is reassuring that the cause of illness in the heifer has been identified. Enteroviruses are a common cause of illness in both animals and humans, however they do not usually cross between species. This combined with the fact that animals are examined prior to slaughter by a veterinary surgeon and any with symptoms of acute viral disease are prevented from entering the food chain, and that enteroviruses are killed by heat, means that this case is thought unlikely to pose any risk to human health".
In considering the available data on all the cases, the group of experts agreed that for a variety of reasons they also didn't pose a significant risk to human health. These reasons included the fact that there was no increasing trend in the low number of samples being submitted for testing from cows and sheep with neurological illness over the last 10 years, and that no apparent link has been identified between these cases and the cases represented a variety of clinical and pathological findings.
Dr Morgan concluded, "As more evidence becomes available we will continue to assess the risk, but the information we have so far suggests that these cases are unlikely to pose a significant risk to human health."
[2] Date: Tue 29 Jun 2004 From: Tom Barrett (IAH-P)
The recent case of what is described as a type of cattle poliomyelitis in a young cow in Britain is reminiscent of similar cases reported in the 1970s in the USA and in Germany. In 1995 a paper (1) by a German group described the isolation of a viral agent from brain explants of a 15 month old heifer with clinical signs of sporadic encephalomyelitis. The nucleocapsid structures were reminiscent of those of paramyxoviruses, and positive fluorescence reactions were obtained with sera obtained from sub-acute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) patients and with rabbit hyperimmune anti-rinderpest virus antiserum.
In 1979 a similar paper was published detailing a case from the USA(2). The virus was found in an animal experimentally infected with malignant catarrhal fever virus. Again in indirect fluorescence tests, the agent reacted with both measles and rinderpest virus antisera, and the authors stated that this was the 1st report of a morbillivirus isolation from North American cattle.
In 1994, during the course of a project to complete the sequence of the rinderpest virus genome (3), we found very major differences in the sequence of the matrix (M) protein gene derived from our virus isolate from that which had been published by an American group (4). The difference in isolates was that Limo & Yilma had sequenced the purported wild type virus and we had sequenced the vaccine strain derived from this virus. Curiously all the other genes of the 2 viruses showed >97 per cent identity. We independently sequenced the wild type strain derived from a different source and found it to be almost identical to our vaccine strain sequence. The conclusion we came to was that the American sequence was derived from a contaminating virus present in the primary bovine cells used to culture the virus for sequencing, which was most likely related to the unknown morbillivirus-like viruses found in the previous bovine cases. In addition, it was noted that one of the unvaccinated control animals used in a vaccine trial to test vaccinia recombinant viruses at the Plum Island laboratory in New York (5), had cross-neutralizing antibodies to rinderpest virus prior to challenge, indicating exposure to another morbillivirus. The animal was not protected from rinderpest, however. A similar virus could be the causative agent of the current meningoencephalitis case.
References 1. Bachmann, et al. Sporadic bovine-meningo-encephalitis - isolation of a paramyxovirus. Arch Virol 1995; 48: 107-20. 2. Coulter & Storz. Identification of a cell-associated morbillivirus from cattle affected with malignant catarrhal fever: antigenic differentiation and cytologic characterisation. Am J Vet Res 1979; 40: 1671-7. 3. Baron, et al. Cloning and sequence analysis of the matrix (M) protein gene of rinderpest virus and evidence for another bovine morbillivirus. Virology 1994; 200: 121-9. 4. Limo & Yilma. Molecular cloning of the rinderpest virus matrix protein gene:Comparative sequence analysis with other paramyxoviruses. Virology 1990; 175: 323-7. 5. Giaredoni, et al. A vaccinia virus double recombinant expressing the F and H genes of rinderpest protects cattle against rinderpest and causes no pock lesions. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1991; 88: 8011-5.
-- Tom Barrett, Institute for Animal Health, Pirbright Laboratory, UK email:
-- ProMED-mail
[The DEFRA announcement, and Dr Barrett's comment, taken together, suggest that the identity of the causative agent remains uncertain, and it cannot be assumed that the same agent is responsible for these rare cases of poliomyelitis-like illness in cattle and sheep.
Enteroviruses are ubiquitous small RNA viruses that multiply in the gastrointestinal tract of humans and animals but can also multiply in other tissues, including neural tissue. In humans, clinical manifestations include mild meningitis, encephalitis, myelitis, myocarditis, and conjunctivitis. However, infection may frequently be asymptomatic: currently, more than 30 different human echoviruses are recognized that have no association with any known disease. Less is known about the diversity of animal enteroviruses, the foot and mouth disease viruses apart. Consequently, the detection of an uncharacterized enterovirus in a single case is difficult to evaluate in the absence of other corroborating evidence.
Tom Barrett has drawn together some disparate observations, well-supported by experimental data, which suggest that a previously unsuspected morbillivirus-like paramyxovirus may be prevalent in some domestic animals. The morbilliviruses -- which include the distemper viruses of carnivores, rinderpest of bovines, and the human measles viruses -- are all associated with neurological disease. The final diagnosis is still some way off. On the other hand, DEFRA's interim conclusion, that these cases are unlikely to pose a significant risk to human health, seems reasonable on the basis of the information available so far. - Mod.CP]
Hello, Jeff - I need more time to thoroughly analyze the information given in the Promed post. First of all, I still question why, and how is the "white" matter of the brain affected. The Promed post has not sufficiently answered that question. The swift destruction of the white matter indicates something else going on.
I would also like more information on the background of the cattle. Were they recently vaccinated? Are they pastured near a lab? etc etc.
Were the cattle part of some new vaccination trial?
Quite possibly, we have another vaccine trial or lab involvement. ...or something more sinister. If the US has upgrades its labs to re-enter the bioweapons business (defensively...of course) it is quite possible that the UK is doing the same.
Developing human and livestock illnesses, recombinations of illnesses etc in attempt to find vaccines, etc could really lead to some of the vialest bioweapons on the face of the earth. Plum Island was opened in 1954 with a mandate to find efficient ways of "taking out" soviet livestock. Not much change since 54, only the face of the enemy.
Obvioulsy this new bovine "polio" is an efficient and speedy killer of cattle.
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