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Surveillance Programme for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)

Belize has embarked on a Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) Surveillance program since the year 2000. However not much advances were made mainly due to lack of planning and organization. Several entities (BLPA, BAHA, MOA, OIRSA) have now come together in a coordinated effort to drastically improve with planning, organization and execution for the BSE Surveillance System to be successful.

This Surveillance System is considered very important because of the impact it has on trade with cattle. Also it is a disease known to affect humans.

There are three BSE Risk Status categories. Belize is currently on the lowest category known as UNDETERMINED. This means that Belize cannot trade cattle with countries that have a higher BSE risk status category. Therefore Belize has to implement all of the activities required to advance in status namely CONTROLLED Risk Status and subsequently NEGLIGIBLE Risk Status.

To advance in category the key elements consists of Farmers reporting to BLPA or BAHA any downer cattle or cattle showing nervous signs. Farmers will be trained on how to identify a suspicious case so as to facilitate reporting.

Each sample taken from a dead cattle will provide points to the point system. It is required that Belize accumulates 21,500 points. A good sample provides 750 points. Other key activities consists of testing animal feed to demonstrate the absence of ruminant protein in the feed. So far Belize has accumulated 17,350 points.

Once all the points have been achieved, a dossier will be submitted to The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) for International Recognition of a CONTROLLED BSE Risk Status.

This achievement will open doors for the negotiation to trade cattle of all categories with trading partners.


Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known as Mad Cow Disease, is a fatal disease of the nervous system that mainly affects cattle.

BSE is one of a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Other TSEs include scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. A neurological disease in cats has been linked to BSE.

BSE is a notifiable disease to BAHA

Cause and Transmission:

BSE, like other TSEs, is from an infectious protein, called a prion, in nervous tissue. The prion causes spongy degeneration of the brain which results in severe and fatal neurologic signs.

BSE is commonly spread by eating prion-containing tissues of infected animal. Infected animals do not become ill until 2 to 8 years.

Signs of BSE in Animals:

Signs of BSE are found in adult animals. This is due to the average time between an animal’s infection with the prion and the onset of signs normally 2 to 8 years. Signs may last for a period of 2 to 6 months before the animal dies. Animals with BSE may demonstrate some of the following signs:

  • Nervous or aggressive behaviour.
  • Depression.
  • Hypersensitivity to sound and touch, twitching, tremors.
  • Abnormal posture.
  • Lack of coordination.
  • Weight loss.
  • Decreased milk production.


BSE can be suspected based on clinical signs but cannot be diagnosed on signs alone. Diagnosis is confirmed by laboratory testing of a suspect animal by BAHA.


Here is no treatment for BSE. BSE is always progressive and fatal once signs develop. Suspected animals are often euthanized for testing.


BSE can be prevented by not feed ruminant tissues that may contain prions to susceptible species. If cattle are disabled or non-ambulatory, they do NOT enter the food chain. Do NOT eat the brains of ruminants.

The prion cannot be killed by standard disinfection procedures or heat, which means that cooking the meat will not completely destroy it.


If you observed the described clinical signs, then report to BLPA or BAHA immediately.

Where does BSE occur?

BSE has occurred in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, South America and North America.

Confusion with other diseases:

BSE can be confused with other neurologic diseases such as rabies or nutritional deficits. Whenever neurologic signs are observed in your animals, report it to BLPA or BAHA so that tests can be made to determine whether the disease causing them is BSE.

For Further Information contact Belize Livestock Producers Association (BLPA) or the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) at:

BLPA Office

Tel: +501 675- 3883

BAHA Office

Central Farm Tel: (501) 824-4899 / 4872
Fax: ( 501) 824-4889
E-mail: animalhealth@baha.org.bz

BAHA Office – Orange Walk Town

Tel: (501) 322-3257 / 2301
Fax: (501) 322-2301