Tests on sheep exposed to brain wasting-disease taking longer

Tests on sheep exposed to brain wasting-disease taking longer

August 3, 2001 Associated Press

Preliminary test results are taking longer than expected on 350 milk sheep from Vermont exposed to a brain wasting disease related to mad cow disease.

Initially, the results were supposed to be ready in June, but now there's no predicted time frame for when they will be finished, said Ed Curlett, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"We're getting it done as fast as we can, and then we'll make an announcement," he said.

The East Friesian sheep were transported to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames in March to be killed so their brains could be tested for transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, an illness related to mad cow disease.

The Agriculture Department seized the flocks with the help of a federal court order, which ended a two-year legal battle with two Vermont farmers.

Linda and Larry Faillace of East Warren, and Houghton Freeman of Stowe, had fought the government's seizure order saying the government's findings that their sheep have the near-fatal disease were faulty.

Veterinary Services Laboratories had to build a high-security lab, resulting in the tests taking longer than expected, Curlett said. The laboratory has equipment to regulate microorganism contamination and includes four security levels to prevent contamination of the air.

The tests are also taking longer because employees at the veterinary laboratory get an average of 100 samples a day to test cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy - mad cow disease.

The tests on the sheep brain tissue involve searching for tiny holes caused by TSE and looking for abnormal proteins, which often are indicators of the disease.

Some of the brains were also sent to a private lab in Staton Island, N.Y., for more testing.

It will take another two years to determine what type of TSE, if any, the sheep had.

Portions of the sheep brains will be placed inside the brains of mice. The mice then will be studied to see if they get sick, Curlett said.

Mad cow disease could have started in Great Britain from cattle eating bone meal made from ground up animal parts. Such feed has been banned in the United States for at least five years.

Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy is a family of brain-wasting diseases that includes mad cow disease and scrapie, a common sheep disease.

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