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The experimental infection of sheep with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) by the oral route and the likelihood that sheep were fed BSE-infected meat and bone meal has led to extensive speculation as to whether or not sheep are naturally infected with BSE. In response, the UK government has initiated the National Scrapie Plan (NSP), an ambitious pound 120 million per year project to create a BSE- and scrapie-resistant national sheep flock, by selectively breeding for a genotype of sheep believed to be resistant to both diseases. This genotype has recently been shown to be susceptible to BSE by intracerebral (i.c.) inoculation. Should these sheep be sufficiently susceptible to BSE via natural transmission, the NSP might fail. Here we estimate the susceptibility of this genotype to horizontal (sheep-to-sheep) transmission of BSE by comparison with more extensive oral and i.c. exposure data for other sheep genotypes. We show that a previous estimate of the risk of BSE transmission to sheep via the feedborne route remains robust. However, using a mathematical model for the within-flock transmission of BSE, we show that, while the best estimate indicates that the NSP should be successful, current data cannot exclude the failure of the NSP.

Original publication




Journal article


J Gen Virol

Publication Date





3503 - 3512


Animals, Cattle, Disease Susceptibility, Disease Transmission, Infectious, Encephalopathy, Bovine Spongiform, Foodborne Diseases, Models, Biological, Risk Factors, Sheep, Sheep Diseases, United Kingdom