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Report: Disease Spread Due To Delay

February 9, 1998

LONDON (AP) _ A delay of more than a year in properly identifying the earliest cases of mad cow disease in Britain allowed it to spread through beef herds, the BBC reported today.

The British Broadcasting Corp. said almost 60,000 cases of the fatal cattle disease could have been avoided if action had been taken earlier against the outbreak.

The BBC said its researchers found out about early cases of the disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, while working on a documentary to be shown next week on the history of the sickness.

In the program, a government scientific adviser on the disease, Roy Anderson, said the first case was discovered in 1985 but the connection leading to its identification was not made for another 14 months.

The BBC said in September 1985, a junior pathologist identified a brain disease similar to the common sheep disease, scrapie, in a Frisian cow from a farm in West Sussex, southwest of London.

The government has said in the past that the first confirmed case was in November 1986. The BBC said it wasn’t until early 1987 that senior officials identified the cattle disease BSE.

That resulted in a ban on the use of animal protein in cattle feed _ which was thought to be the source of the disease.

Anderson was quoted by the BBC as saying that cases of mad cow fell sharply after the ban was introduced.

But he said if it had been introduced earlier, up to a third of the 170,000 cases diagnosed so far could have been prevented and less infected meat would have entered the human food chain.

In March 1996, the government said there was a probable link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy and a new strain of the fatal human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which has claimed 23 lives in Britain in the last three years.

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