BSE can spread by air, study claims

Slaughterhouses may have to install additional ventilation and air extraction systems after scientists discovered bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) can be spread to livestock by air.

They have found prions – the infectious agents triggering the disease – are not necessarily transmitted only by eating contaminated material.

The researchers from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and the Institute of Immunology, Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Tübingen, Germany, say that the discovery could help to develop new defensive measures against the disease.

The scientists exposed mice to prion-containing aerosols and, after one minute, they all contracted the disease, with the prions infecting the brain directly from the windpipe and lungs.

“Precautionary measures against prion infections in scientific laboratories, slaughterhouses and animal feed plants do not typically include stringent protection against aerosols. The new findings suggest it may be advisable to reconsider regulations…” said a University of Zurich note.

The study was part-funded by European Union research projects ANTEPRION and PRIORITY.