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Towards international coordination of research and epidemiological studies on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies

  • A group of international experts on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) (1) met at the headquarters of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) (2) from 8 to 10 October 1996. The meeting was chaired by Dr G. Thomson (South Africa).

  • The 143 OIE Member Countries were invited to send their representatives to this meeting, at which representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) also took part. At the meeting a review was given of research and epidemiological studies undertaken to date throughout the world, and a document was prepared that will shortly be distributed by the OIE.

  • Four Subgroups of experts prepared recommendations on the main lines of research, which to them seem to be the most important, in the following fields:

    1. Fundamental research on TSEs: Its essential aim is to determine the nature of the agents responsible for TSEs, to elucidate the pathogen of these diseases, and to identify the factors that influence susceptibility in animals and humans.

    2. Transmission of TSEs: Research objectives will be to determine possible susceptibility in different animal species to oral administration of infected products, or to identify the possible existence of TSE invertebrate vectors, to determine the nature of infected products (by special studies on sperm and embryos) and to specify the influence of genetic factors on receptiveness to these diseases.

    3. TSE diagnosis: Research will aim to improve clinical diagnosis of TSEs in live animals by histological, immunohistochemical or serological methods (tests on cerebro-spinal liquid, urine and various tissues). Strain typing will be harmonised and generalised, and resorting to transgenic animals will be encouraged.

    4. Epidemiological studies on TSEs: These will take the form of risk analysis of the most important epidemiological factors, i.e. use of meat-and-bone meal in animal feed, quartering methods, existence of indigenous TSEs, etc. TSE surveillance methods will be based on precise identification of the animals and on systematic research of suspect cases in live or dead animals.

The OIE will also regularly prepare and distribute a list of research programmes on TSEs undertaken worldwide, as well as encourage the collection of pictures and the publication of video films on animal TSEs. The OIE will also strengthen the measures taken by its specialised Commissions and Working Groups to harmonise TSE diagnostic methods (and particularly strain typing), which would allow worldwide epidemiological surveillance of these diseases, by providing access to equivalent reference systems on the international level.

The OIE will draw the attention of governments to the need for giving their financial support to recommended research programmes, in the interest of animal and public health.

Paris, 10 October 1996

(1) The main TSEs concerned were bovine spongiform encephalopathy, scrapie in sheep, transmissible encephalopathy in minks, chronic cachexia in cervidae and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (in humans).

(2) Office International des Epizooties, world organisation for animal health, was created in 1924 and has its headquarters in Paris. It brings together 143 Member Countries and is responsible for informing and advising national Veterinary Services in order to protect public health and to contribute to the control of the most dangerous animal diseases.

Contact : Maria Zampaglione

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