Senate passes bill to form animal disease task force

Researchers, regulators continue battle against BSE and other TSE
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The Senate in early April approved a bill that would commission a team of high-ranking government officials to coordinate prevention efforts for bovine spongiform encephalopathy and foot-and-mouth disease.

The proposal would create an interagency task force including the heads of the agriculture, commerce, health and human services, treasury, state, and customs departments, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others. No more than 60 days after the act is enacted, the group would submit a report to Congress on the steps already being taken to prevent the diseases, as well as any recommendations for further actions.

The bill-sponsored by Sens Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Herb Kohl, D-Wis-is called the Animal Disease Risk Assessment, Prevention, and Control Act of 2001. It would also assign the Secretary of Agriculture to report on prevention methods and economic and public health implications of these diseases.

The House was scheduled to consider the measure after the Easter recess.

Other recent developments in transmissible spongiform encephalopathy prevalence, research, and policy

  • On April 2, scientists advising the European Commission published an opinion that Albania, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and the Slovak Republic were likely to have BSE in their cattle. No cases have been confirmed in these countries, but the committee placed them in Category III of geographic BSE risk-meaning they are "likely to present a BSE risk, even if not confirmed, or presenting a low level of confirmed BSE risk"—on the basis of their importation of live cattle and meat and bonemeal from countries with BSE. All countries below Category I—"highly unlikely to present a BSE risk"—must remove specified risk material, including brain and spinal cord, from cattle before exportation.
  • In early April, Canadian wildlife officials confirmed the first case of chronic wasting disease in a wild deer in that country. Dozens of cases have been confirmed on elk farms in Canada since 1996, and more than 3,000 animals have been killed in an attempt to contain the disease. This case—appearing in a wild mule deer killed last fall in Saskatchewan—was discovered as part of a government surveillance program that collects and tests the heads of deer shot by hunters. In response to the finding, Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management officials are implementing new measures to control the disease, including using higher limits for hunters to reduce the deer population in the affected area; reducing the artificial feeding of animals in the area to decrease "unnatural congregation," thus diminishing chances that the disease will spread; increasing the number of hunted deer tested for the disease; and establishing a public information hotline.
  • Researchers successfully infected macaque monkeys with a TSE by injecting the infectious agent into their bloodstream, suggesting that a form of the disease could be transmitted to humans intravenously. However, the scientists who worked on the study said this does not prove that people can contract variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of BSE, through the blood supply, because the amount of infectious agent in human blood is unknown. The research was published in the March 27 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • Another team of scientists reported in the April issue of the journal Nature Medicine that they had slowed the progression of a TSE in mice by treating them with cobra venom factor before infecting them with the scrapie prion. The venom impairs the replication of the abnormal prions thought to cause TSE, thus delaying the onset of signs.