European Union's rapid TSE testing in adult cattle and sheep: implementation and results in 2001 and 2002

Bird, Sheila M
June 2003
Statistical Methods in Medical Research;Jun2003, Vol. 12 Issue 3, p261
Academic Journal
journal article
After the discovery of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), scientific advances quickly led to postmortem tests to identify late-stage bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) disease. These were first used in Switzerland in 1999 for active BSE surveillance of a) fallen and emergency-slaughter bovines (risk stock) and b) 5% sample of routinely slaughtered cattle over 30 months of age. In 1999 and 2000, Switzerland's estimated 103 BSE positives per 1 000 000 adult cattle put it in the same BSE risk classification as UKand Portugal. In July2000, the European Union's Scientific Steering Committee published its methodology (and first vetted results) for geographical BSE risk (GBR) assessment in cattle. Member states with no BSE cases found themselves, on rational assessment, classified as GBR III (BSE likely but not confirmed, or confirmed at a lower level). Because of Europe's thus highly assessed BSE risks, active BSE surveillance of adult cattle in all member states began in January2001 using one of three validated post-mortem tests. Implementation was variable across member states in January to March 2001 but, where operational, active surveillance was typically achieved for around 13 300 routinely slaughtered and 1000 risk stock per month per 1 000 000 adult cattle; BSE positive rates were 60 and 600 per 1 000 000 routinely slaughtered and risk cattle, respectively. By the second half of 2001, active BSE surveillance was operating reasonably in most member states, although anomalies persisted. Performance and results for July to December 2001 and for January to June 2002 are considered in detail. The BSE positive rate decreased substantially in UK, Portugal and Ireland between semesters, whereas Spain's rates increased for both routinely slaughtered and risk bovines. Based on 1 450 000 routinely slaughtered and 135 000 risk stock as standard, France could have expected 153 BSE positives in July to December 2001 (109 in January to June 2002); Italy 154 (67); and Germany only 39 (48). When sample-based surveillance data were scaled up and combined with clinical BSE cases, Great Britain's BSE positives were estimated at around 400 per 1 000 000 adult cattle in 2002 compared with over 1000 per 1 000 000 adult cattle in 2000. Age distributions for cattle subject to active BSE surveillance have been underexploited. The major transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) which affects sheep and goats is scrapie. Passive surveillance of scrapie is associated with substantial under-reporting. Susceptibility to scrapie depends strongly on sheep genotype; but resistance to scrapie does not necessarily confer resistance of sheep to BSE. Because of uncertainty about the true prevalence of scrapie-infected adult sheep and concern that BSE in sheep may be missed, the European Union pre-empted its planned evaluation of rapid post-mortem TSE tests in sheep by requiring the rapid TSE testing of small ruminants from April 2002 with one of the three cattle-validated tests. Basic requirements for active TSE surveillance in sheep were: random sample of 6000 fallen sheep and of 60 000 routinely slaughtered adult native sheep to be tested per member state by end March 2003. Lower surveillance targets were set for countries with under 1 000 000 adult sheep. Adequately to map scrapie-susceptible genotypes and identify resistant genotypes, a random sample of 500 routinely slaughtered native adult sheep was to be genotyped, together with each TSE rapid test positive adult sheep and two sets of three suitably sampled controls. By the end of August 2002, when 41% of the initial surveillance time had elapsed, only 20% of the European joint target for routinely slaughtered adult sheep had been completed, but that for fallen sheep was exceeded. Except in Ireland, the upper 95% confidence bound on TSE prevalence exceeded 500 per 1 000 000 routinely slaughtered adult sheep in reporting-compliant countries with more than 1 000 000 adult sheep. The UK, Greece, Italy and France were likely to approach the goal of 100 TSE rapid test positives on completion of their assigned first-year surveillance target for sheep. Results from the recommended genotyping of TSE positive adult sheep and controls for use in inferring differential TSE-positive susceptibility by genotype are awaited. Only by genotyping 5000-50 000 TSE-positive adult sheep, a massive undertaking even on the European scale, will it become clear whether scrapie resistance is relative rather than absolute. This paper details Europe's quantitative evolution in TSE surveillance.


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