Possible new type of zoonose in England

The Veterinary Laboratories Agency has recorded what is possibly a new condition in ruminants (cattle and sheep) in England.

A short item was considered by the UK Zoonoses Group on a nervous condition in a heifer which had suffered partial leg paralysis. It was initially diagnosed as suspected botulism.

The UK Zoonoses Group's remit includes consideration from a public health angle of new and emerging diseases, such as the case brought by the VLA in April 2004.

Tests on the animal at VLA Penrith, Cumbria, showed on microscopy lesions suggestive of a viral infection in the brain. There was no evidence of a Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy.

Possible virological causes were followed up including louping-ill, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) and West Nile Virus. All proved negative to the tests.

The lesions were also not consistent with Borna disease infection or rabies infection.

Over the last ten years, 21 similar cases from 13 premises have been identified by the VLA as a result of their examination of routine submissions. The VLA carries out extensive surveillance and diagnostic work on material submitted by private vets for their farming clients. In the submission of the material, a diagnosis is not reached in every case.

A similar pathological condition has been recorded in Switzerland following similar surveillance to that carried out by the VLA.

The issue was raised at the UKZG in advance of publication of a letter to the Veterinary Record, alerting vets and farmers of the findings. The letter is due to be published shortly.

Further investigation are ongoing, and the Health Protection Agency is to lead a risk assessment on the new condition. Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Debby Reynolds has asked that this is done as a matter of urgency.

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