A NEW BRAIN disease has emerged to threaten cattle, DEFRA has confirmed.

But department officials have scotched fears that the disease is a new form of BSE.

Press articles this week (w/e June 11) raised concerns of a “new and mysterious brain disease” after it emerged on Tuesday (June 8) that DEFRA had asked the Health Protection Agency to investigate the human health implications of a disease which caused inflammation of the brain in cattle.

The disease was spotted in a milking Holstein heifer in Cumbria which died after a period of paralysis at the end of 2003.

Tests carried out on brain samples from the heifer failed to identify a known disease, but showed it was not BSE or a TSE.

Instead pathological changes in the brain, similar to Polio encephalomyelitis, were believed to have been caused by a virus.

In a further twist the symptoms have been said to mimic those of botulism and DEFRA has urged vets to report all cases of suspected botulism to gauge the extent of the new disease.

But the department has ruled out links with a recent increase in cases of botulism (see article below), saying that these cases were related specifically to the misuse of poultry manure.

DEFRA also added that the disease did not appear to be highly contagious, as other animals, housed with the infected heifer, did not contract the disease.

Nevertheless, the NFU‘s Peter Rudman urged farmers to be vigilant for signs of the disease.

“We are obviously concerned about the death of an animal from an unknown cause.

“The NFU is urging all farmers to be vigilant and report all unusual events to their vet. At this stage there is no cause for concern, but we do need to know.”

National Beef Association chief executive Robert Forster added: “It‘s not a TSE so what‘s the fuss?

“The brains of cattle are coming under massive scrutiny; it‘s not surprising that something has come up.”