Mad Cow Disease Found
In French Zoo Lemurs -
Beef Diet Suspected
PARIS (Reuters) - At least 20 lemurs, a type of primate, living in three different French zoos have been found to be infected with the same infectious agent that causes "mad cow disease," or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
The animals' diets included 15% beef protein produced by a company in the UK, suggesting that their feed was infected with the prion that causes BSE from slaughtered cattle, according to the report in the March 30th issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Previously, Dr. Noelle Bons of the Universite Montpellier II and colleagues reported that a monkey and two lemurs had died of spongiform encephalopathy at the Montpellier zoo. To investigate further, the team studied 18 more lemurs from zoos in Besancon and Strasbourg., and autopsies of the lemurs showed the presence of the prions in all the animals.
Prions are an abnormal form of a naturally occurring protein, which is thought to cause neurological degeneration and ultimately death in animals exposed to the mutant protein. According to the report, it appears that prions are taken up by cells lining the digestive tract, and then travel along nerve pathways to the brain.
The investigators report that prions were found in the animals' digestive tracts, spleens, and in some cases their brains. Certain animals also had brain lesions characteristic of prion disease.
Bons and colleagues conclude that "BSE contamination of zoo animals may have been more widespread than is generally appreciated."
SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 1999;96:4046-4051.