BSE Risk Assessment as a Basis for Updating French Screening Policy
The current French bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) surveillance system, based on rapid testing of all cattle over 24 months of age and on clinical diagnosis, detects all clinical cases and some preclinical cases of BSE. Several indicators point to a marked shrinkage of the French BSE epidemic in recent years, owing to risk reduction measures. Meat and bone meal, the only known vector of the BSE agent, was banned in feed for all farmed species in November 2000. Thus the surveillance system may be relaxed. The objective of this risk assessment study was to provide information for decisionmakers on the minimum age at which healthy and high-risk cattle now need to be screened with rapid tests. For this purpose, we used the back-calculation method to project the course of the BSE epidemic. We examined the predicted patterns of the number and age distribution of cases of BSE that would be detected by the different existing surveillance streams. Various theoretical sensitivities of rapid tests were explored. Assuming that feed-borne sources of infection no longer exist, and that BSE does not occur spontaneously, our models suggest that it would have been possible to raise the minimum age for rapid tests to 66 months in early 2006, whereas theoretical reasoning, based on the assumption that the total meat and bone meal ban was effective in November 2001, suggests that this age cutoff could only be raised to 48 months in early 2006. These results only apply to cattle born and bred in France. If the situation remains unchanged, the age cutoff could be raised incrementally each year.