Also known as “Mad Cow disease”, this fatal disease can be transmitted to humans. BSE is a notifiable disease.

First published:
20 November 2018
Last updated:

The disease is a specific form of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE).

Suspicion and confirmation

Contact your local Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) office immediately on 0300 303 8268 if you suspect BSE.

APHA vets will investigate suspected cases.

Clinical signs

BSE generally affects adult cattle, aged five years or more. It progresses slowly over weeks and months. Other ruminants (cats, nonhuman primates and humans) can be affected.

Affected animals show signs that may include:

  • changes in mental state, for example placid animal becomes aggressive
  • abnormalities in standing and movement
  • hypersensitivity to noise, light or touch
  • weakness and loss of condition

Transmission, prevention and treatment

BSE is transmitted through ingestion of infected tissue. The highest concentration of infection occurs in the brain, spinal cord and ilium. Young animals are particularly susceptible.

There is currently no treatment for BSE. To control and stamp out the disease, the appropriate actions are to:

  • quarantine the herd
  • cull suspect animals
  • investigate the source of infection
  • prevent infected meat from entering the food chain