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Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) are neurodegenerative diseases caused by prions. Although these infections usually remain asymptomatic for years, the disease is always progressive and fatal once the clinical signs develop. TSEs affecting animals include scrapie (tremblante de mouton, rida), bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, “mad cow disease”), feline spongiform encephalopathy (FSE), transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME, mink scrapie) and chronic wasting disease (CWD). Although some prion diseases usually occur in one or a few closely related species, other prions can cross species barriers. BSE has a particularly wide host range. Cattle are the primary hosts for this disease, but some other ruminants, cats, lemurs and humans can also be affected; in cats, the disease is known as feline spongiform encephalopathy and in humans, it is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Some evidence also suggests that TME might be a caused by an atypical variant of the BSE agent called L-BSE. The discovery that BSE can cross species barriers and is zoonotic has raised concerns about all TSEs. Prion diseases in livestock can also result in trade sanctions. For these reasons, many countries are conducting control or eradication programs.

This document contains general information about the various prion diseases found in animals. Additional details can be found in the individual factsheet for each disease.

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Iowa State University



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