IMG_1404The Irish Government announced last week that a suspected case of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) has been identified in County Louth in the Republic of Ireland and that further tests are being carried out on the five-year-old cow, and are expected to be completed within the next week.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, commonly known as Mad Cow Disease, is a fatal disease that attacks the animal’s brain and central nervous system. Cows affected by BSE are usually apart from the herd and will show progressively deteriorating behavioural and neurological signs. Affected cows often show notable signs of an increase in aggression. Cattle will react excessively to noise or touch and their balance and coordination will decrease. There is often a drop in milk production, anorexia and lethargy, are present.

It will be a further week before we hear the results of the confirmatory tests.

In addition to disease treatment, Vets have always provided a vital service with regard to disease surveillance.  Monitoring animals and being vigilant of disease outbreaks, reporting those suspected outbreaks to the relevant authorities and ensuring, where possible, that the disease is contained.

This suspected case comes just days after the World Animal Health Organisation granted ‘negligible risk’ status to the Republic of Ireland with respect to BSE. It highlights the vital importance of a robust mechanism delivering reliable livestock disease surveillance and investigation, and ultimately food safety.

Many Vets are retained by the authority as “Official Veterinary Surgeons” to fulfil this role however recent central cost-cutting rounds have impacted on the role and there are concerns within the Veterinary Industry that disease surveillance may be less robust than it once was.

Although this case is only a suspicion at present it clearly demonstrates that we must never take our eye off the ball in regard to disease surveillance. This suspected case has been picked up very early and it is important to emphasise, that there is zero risk to human health as the animal did not enter the food chain.