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Thursday, Aug. 23, 2001
Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343


HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today unveiled a department-wide action plan outlining new steps to improve scientific understanding of BSE, commonly known as "mad cow disease," and related diseases known as TSEs. The plan incorporates a comprehensive approach to further strengthen surveillance, increase research resources, and expand existing inspection efforts to prevent BSE and TSEs from entering or taking hold in the United States.

"We've already taken numerous precautionary steps at the federal and local levels to prevent BSE from occurring in the U.S. food supply, but we must continue to strengthen our understanding of this disease," said Secretary Thompson. "This plan lays out a course of action to expand our understanding of the underlying science of BSE and its potential for transmission to humans."

BSE (bovine spongioform encephalopathy), first identified in 1986 in the United Kingdom, is a fatal disease that causes progressive neurological degeneration in cattle. It is one of a family of diseases called TSEs, or transmissible spongioform encephalopathies, named for the sponge-like gaps that develop in the brain tissue of diseased animals or people. One TSE disease that affects humans is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), and a form of this disease, variant CJD (vCJD), is probably related to the BSE disease of cattle. There is strong scientific evidence that the agent that causes BSE in cattle is the agent that causes vCJD in people. So far, there have been cases of vCJD reported in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe, believed to occur in people who consumed beef products contaminated with the infective BSE agent. There are no reported cases of BSE or vCJD in the United States.

"The number of people known to suffer this disease remains extremely small, with no cases involving residents of this country. The basic facts about BSE and other TSEs are not well understood, so it's important for us to learn more as quickly as we can. And at the same time, we must continue to carry out effective steps to keep BSE out of the American food supply," Secretary Thompson said.

The Secreatary's action plan released today outlines four areas of responsibility-surveillance, protection, research and oversight-within HHS. This effort will be coordinated with other government agencies, the private sector, and the international community to contain this epidemic and assist those affected by it.

The Secretary's action plan is on the Web at:

Additional information on BSE is available from the following resources:
HHS Fact Sheet:
FDA Web site:
CDC Web site:


Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at

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Last revised: August 23, 2001