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The basic reproduction number, R0, of an infectious agent is a key factor determining the rate of spread and the proportion of the host population affected. We formulate a general mathematical framework to describe the transmission dynamics of long incubation period diseases with complex pathogenesis. This is used to derive expressions for R0 of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in British cattle, and back-calculation methods are used to estimate R0 throughout the time-course of the BSE epidemic. We show that the 1988 meat and bonemeal ban was effective in rapidly reducing R0 below 1, and demonstrate that this indicates that BSE will be unable to become endemic in the UK cattle population even when case clustering is taken into account. The analysis provides some insight into absolute infectiousness for bovine-to-bovine transmission, indicating maximally infectious animals may have infected up to 400 animals each. The relationship between R0 and the early stages of the BSE epidemic and the requirements for additional research are also discussed.

Original publication




Journal article


Proceedings. Biological sciences

Publication Date





23 - 32


Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, UK.


Animals, Cattle, Encephalopathy, Bovine Spongiform, Disease Outbreaks, Models, Biological, Time Factors, Animal Feed, United Kingdom