Royal Society Publishing

The epidemiology of BSE in cattle herds in Great Britain. I. Epidemiological processes, demography of cattle and approaches to control by culling

C. A. Donnelly , N. M. Ferguson , A. C. Ghani , M. E. J. Woolhouse , C. J. Watt , R. M. Anderson


This paper explores the key epidemiological processes and demographic factors that determined the pattern of transmission of the aetiological agent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle herds in Great Britain (GB). The analyses presented utilize data from published and unpublished experimental studies and from the GB central database of confirmed BSE cases.

We review the experimental and epidemiological evidence that has both confirmed indirect horizontal transmission via the consumption of infectious material as the major transmission route and provided information on the duration and variability of the dose–dependent incubation period of BSE in cattle. The epidemiological and genetic data pertaining to the possible existence of maternal transmission and/or genetically variable susceptibility to infection is discussed.

The demography of British cattle is characterized and the impacts of key demographic features on the observed epidemic profile are discussed. In the main BSE case database, analyses reveal that BSE cases cluster significantly at both the holding and county scale. Furthermore, analysis of longitudinal patterns reveal substantial temporal within–holding correlation. Such clustering of cases suggests a highly heterogeneous infection process.

The paper ends with a discussion of how analyses of spatio–temporal clustering inform the design of targeted culling programmes aimed at reducing future disease incidence. We show how the retrospective implementation of culling policies on the BSE case database allows the qualitative evaluation of policy performance, but that model predictions of future trends in case incidence are required to estimate the precise impact of any current or future programme.

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