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Risk factors for BSE-infections in Lower Saxony, Germany

Ovelhey, A., Beyerbach, M., Schael, J., Selhorst, T., Kramer, M., Kreienbrock, L.
Preventive veterinary medicine 2008 v.83 no.2 pp. 196-209
cattle, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, risk factors, livestock production, farm management, epidemiological studies, questionnaires, data collection, statistical analysis, farm structure, farm size, cattle feeding, calves, feeds, milk replacer, animal husbandry, farming systems, Holstein, imports, risk assessment, Germany
In order to generate data on the cattle population and farm management in the state of Lower Saxony, Germany, a basic demographic survey was conducted. Afterwards these BSE-free farms as a reference population were compared with the population on BSE farms to identify risk factors for BSE infections. A variety of risk factors for BSE were reviewed, including the import of cattle from the United Kingdom, commercial foodstuff, dairy farming, herd size and cross-contamination with foodstuff for other farm animals. For the basic demographic survey of the reference, a questionnaire was mailed to a representative sample of cattle farms in Lower Saxony where BSE cattle had not occurred before the sample was taken. Distribution of risk factors within this reference population (n =731) and the BSE population (n =49) were compared following the concept of indirect standardisation in stratified populations. The size of farms was used as the stratification variable, with three strata. Under the same rate as in the reference population, the portion of Red Holstein cattle breed was four fold higher than in the BSE population (SER=4.03; p =0.0003). Milk replacer was fed 1.41 times more often on BSE farms (p =0.0478). However, the use of concentrated foodstuff for pigs (SER=0.21) was significantly less frequent in the BSE population than expected (p =0.0001), whereas the husbandry of sheep, goats or game animals seemed to increase the risk of BSE 2.85 times (p =0.0413). There were no significant differences between the two populations concerning the purchase of cattle (p =0.1514) and the use of concentrated feed for calves during the 1990s (p =0.6212). This is an epidemiological indication of increased susceptibility of Red Holstein cattle to BSE. However, this study did not confirm the assumption that the use of commercial foodstuff other than milk replacer or the purchase of cattle increases the risk of BSE infection. It nevertheless remains likely that commercial foodstuffs such as concentrated feed for calves were risk factors in Germany as well.