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DoD Says Troops in Europe Safe From 'Mad Cow'

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2001 – By following prudent guidelines, U.S. service members and their families living in Europe should not fear catching the human derivative of the so-called mad cow disease, DoD veterinary officials say.

A traveler's advisory issued by the Centers for Disease Control for U.S. citizens in Europe notes that "the relative risk of becoming infected with BSE is very small, if it exists at all," said Army Col. Scott Severin, deputy director of DoD's Veterinary Service Activity. "BSE" is short for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or what the media and public have dubbed "mad cow disease," he said.

Since March 1996, DoD has not purchased beef from the United Kingdom for commissaries, dining halls, post exchange outlets and authorized vendors to avoid possible customer contact with BSE, he said.

"The beef our service members are eating in the dining facilities comes from the United States," Severin said. "The meats being sold through Army and Air Force Exchange Service through the concessions and shoppettes or through the commissaries are all from the United States or from countries outside of Europe where there's no evidence of BSE."

He said DoD took steps in March 2000 to ban the procurement for sale of European-origin ruminant (beef, veal, mutton and lamb) meat and meat products containing them, for consumption by U.S. service members in Europe. "Additionally, DoD has distributed consumer awareness packets throughout European Command and Central Command areas of operations," he said.

Severin said the CDC's guidance to Americans who eat on the European economy and are concerned about exposure to BSE is to stay away from beef and beef products, if possible. "If you do want to eat beef (off installation), go with solid muscle meats like steak or roasts instead of something ground, like hamburgers or sausages," he said. "There is no risk associated with eating pork, poultry, milk or dairy products."

BSE is one of a group of chronic, degenerative diseases that attack the victim's central nervous system, Severin said. As its name implies, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy affects cattle. The human form is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Sheep spongiform encephalopathy, one of the more prevalent and better known forms, goes by the name scrapie. Spongiform encephalopathies also occur in other animals including goats, elk, mule deer and cats.

The disease was first identified in the United Kingdom in 1986. British and Irish officials ordered thousands of cattle destroyed to prevent its spread, he said. Spongiform encephalopathy can spread when victims ingest or are injected with infected matter or tissues. Severin said experts today blame contaminated animal feed for the British outbreak.

"The British government put feed bans into place that appear to have been effective in reducing the epidemic in the United Kingdom," he said. That epidemic peaked in 1993 and the incidence rate has steadily declined since, although cases still occur, he noted.

Severin said concerns about BSE resurged in 1996 when the first cases of a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease appeared in the United Kingdom. There "appeared to be a very strong correlation between eating beef from BSE- infected animals and the occurrence of the variant CJD in humans," he noted.

The European Union banned the export of all British beef products in 1996 in an effort to prevent the spread of BSE to the continent, he said. This action failed to stop the spread of BSE to Europe.

"BSE has shown up on the continent. The most recent countries to have confirmed cases are Spain, Germany and Italy," Severin said.

He said the potential danger to humans from eating infected beef products is real, though remote. CDC has estimated the chances of contracting CJD from eating European beef at "less than one in 10 billion servings."

Both BSE and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob diseases are caused by "prions," short for "proteinaceous infectious particles," according to Web-based research sources. Scientists don't know how or why yet, but prions cause a host's healthy proteins to turn deadly.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is incurable; no serum or vaccine exists, Severin said. Victims usually die within a year, he noted. All cases of variant CJD cases have occurred in the United Kingdom, with the exception of three cases in France and one in Ireland.

In the United States, a recent quarantine of a Texas cattle herd made the headlines, but turned out to be "nondisease- related," Severin said. "There has never been BSE in U.S. beef herds," he said. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has had an extensive surveillance program looking for BSE in the United States for years. They've never identified a single case of BSE."

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Related Sites:
Centers for Disease Control 'Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and New Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease' Web site

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