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Following the controversial failure of a recent study and the small numbers of animals yet screened for infection, it remains uncertain whether bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was transmitted to sheep in the past via feed supplements and whether it is still present. Well grounded mathematical and statistical models are therefore essential to integrate the limited and disparate data, to explore uncertainty, and to define data-collection priorities. We analysed the implications of different scenarios of BSE spread in sheep for relative human exposure levels and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) incidence. Here we show that, if BSE entered the sheep population and a degree of transmission occurred, then ongoing public health risks from ovine BSE are likely to be greater than those from cattle, but that any such risk could be reduced by up to 90% through additional restrictions on sheep products entering the food supply. Extending the analysis to consider absolute risk, we estimate the 95% confidence interval for future vCJD mortality to be 50 to 50,000 human deaths considering exposure to bovine BSE alone, with the upper bound increasing to 150,000 once we include exposure from the worst-case ovine BSE scenario examined.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





420 - 424


Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, St Mary's Campus, London, UK.


Animals, Cattle, Sheep, Humans, Zoonoses, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Syndrome, Encephalopathy, Bovine Spongiform, Sheep Diseases, Incidence, Prevalence, Probability, Risk Assessment, Epidemiologic Studies, Food Contamination, Meat, United Kingdom