Laboratories certified, rapid tests approved for BSE surveillance

Published on May 01, 2004
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The Department of Agriculture has approved seven state veterinary diagnostic laboratories to aid in a plan for a tenfold increase in the number of cattle tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Starting in June, an estimated 200,000 to 270,000 cows in the higher risk group of BSE infection, along with 20,000 older, apparently healthy cows, will be tested for the degenerative neurologic disease (see JAVMA, May 1, 2004).

After a dairy cow in Washington state tested positive for BSE last December, a panel of international BSE experts and the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis recommended a temporary expansion in the number of samples the USDA tests annually for the disease.

As part of the heightened surveillance plan, expected to last 12 to 18 months, Dr. Ron DeHaven, then chief veterinary officer of the USDA, now administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (see article), announced March 29 that seven geographically dispersed laboratories had been certified for BSE sample analysis.

"(The) USDA's intensive BSE surveillance program requires increased laboratory capacity strategically located across the country," he said. "Reducing the distance to the nearest lab will help ensure that we have the most rapid turnaround time possible."

Approved laboratories are: California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System at University of California-Davis; Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory; Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station; Wisconsin Animal Health Laboratory in Madison; Washington State University Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory; Athens Diagnostic Laboratory at University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine; and Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University's New York State College of Veterinary Medicine.

These laboratories will receive federal funds to offset the costs of additional testing and use approved rapid tests for BSE. Other laboratories that meet specific criteria might be certified to analyze surveillance samples.

At press time, five rapid tests had been approved for the BSE surveillance program since March. There are a variety of types of rapid immunologic test kits intended to detect abnormal prion protein. Presumptive positive results from a rapid test must be confirmed with the immunohistochemistry test that the USDA has designated as the official test for BSE. Should it be necessary, confirmatory testing will take place at the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, the national reference laboratory for BSE.

This past January, the USDA's Center for Veterinary Biologics announced that it was accepting veterinary biologics product license and permit applications for diagnostic test kits intended to diagnose BSE. The CVB had a policy of accepting data for BSE test kits, but made the decision to formally accept license applications in the hopes of quickly approving appropriate tests.

More information on the BSE surveillance program is available at