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Mad Cow Disease: U.S. Experts Work to Stop It Before It Starts

WebMD Health News

Jan. 26, 2001 -- We haven't seen it here yet, but the U.S. is ready for mad cow disease if it should find its way into our cattle supply. The FDA and other health agencies, including the American Red Cross, are watching, waiting, and planning as they work to stave off the epidemic that is spreading across Western Europe.

Even though there has never been a case here, import restrictions on cattle from the U.K. have been in place since 1989, and efforts at active surveillance of our cattle supply started in 1990.

In the most recent development, federal health officials quarantined 1,000 heads of cattle in Texas because a feed mill announced it may have broken the rules governing the preparation of cattle feed. Under these regulations, cows and sheep are not to be fed products containing animal parts, in order to prevent the spread of the disease. But the feed company told the FDA that some of the livestock could have eaten bone meal made from other U.S. cattle. It is just a potential risk, since mad cow disease hasn't been reported in this country, but officials want to investigate.

The FDA has reported that this is not an isolated incident, however, as hundreds of feed makers have been violating the regulations in making their products. Members of the cattle industry will be meeting with the government on Monday Jan. 29, in order to get more businesses to step up their compliance to the rules.

The FDA has also been investigating the risks of contracting the disease in other ways. Researchers are not sure if mad cow disease can be transmitted through blood transfusions, for example. But an advisory committee to the FDA recently recommended widening a ban on blood donations to include long-term residents of France, Ireland, and Portugal to make sure mad cow disease stays out of the U.S. blood supply.

Anyone who lived in any one of these countries for 10 years or more from 1980 on should not be allowed to donate blood for the time being, according to the advisory panel. This committee stopped short of recommending a similar ban for all of Western Europe.

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