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We investigate whether a calf born to a dam that develops bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) (prior or subsequent to the birth) is itself at an enhanced risk of developing BSE. Analyses utilize the main database on reported BSE cases in the British cattle herd maintained by the Central Veterinary Laboratory in Weybridge to trace the dams of BSE-affected animals born following the ruminant feed ban in July 1988. The data reveal a significantly enhanced risk of disease in calves born to BSE-affected dams, with the risk being greatest when birth occurs after the onset of clinical signs of disease in the dam. The dependence of the maternally enhanced risk on the maternal incubation stage at birth argues for a significant component of direct maternal transmission of the aetiological agent of BSE, and offers little support for the hypothesis of genetic predisposition. Using a statistical likelihood model, we obtain estimates of the rate of direct maternal transmission by maternal incubation stage; however, biases in the available data make these values minimum estimates.

Original publication




Journal article


Proceedings. Biological sciences

Publication Date





1647 - 1656


Wellcome Trust Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Disease, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, UK.


Animals, Cattle, Encephalopathy, Bovine Spongiform, Genetic Predisposition to Disease, Risk Factors, Maternal Exposure, Pregnancy, Models, Biological, Databases, Factual, Female, Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical