Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs)
Information about TSEs, including who or what can get them, how they can be transferred, and what MPI does to control them.
TSEs are notifiable organisms under the Biosecurity Act 1993. If you know of or suspect any animal may be affected with a TSE, you must call our pest and disease hotline on 0800 80 99 66 or notify your vet.
A range of neurological diseases
TSEs are a range of neurological diseases that affect proteins in the brain. They cause tiny holes to form in brain tissues, resulting in damage to motor functions and mental processes. TSEs can affect both humans and animals. There are no known treatments.
In humans, TSEs can cause symptoms of:
- personality change
- mental health issues
- poor body coordination
- trouble walking
- involuntary movement of the arms and legs
- loss of ability to move or speak.
The TSEs known to cause sickness in animals are different to those that cause sickness in humans. Only one is known to be zoonotic (able to transfer from animal to human) - bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease, can cause a TSE in humans known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). The disease can only be contracted by eating beef or offal from contaminated cows. MPI strictly controls the importing of beef and offal, and has bans in place for countries that have infected cattle, to ensure the safety of New Zealanders.
TSEs in animals
There are 6 TSEs known to affect animals. None are known to be present in New Zealand.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)
BSE is a TSE that affects cows. It is most commonly known as mad cow disease. A major outbreak of the disease in Britain in the 1990s has created widespread awareness of the condition.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD)
CWD affects deer, elk and moose – both wild and domesticated. CWD is most common in North America but has also been discovered in South Korea in a single elk imported from Canada.
Scrapie is a TSE that affects sheep and goats. It has been a recognized fatal disease since the middle of the 18th century. It's named from the tendencies of animals who have it to scratch or scrape patches of their fleece until skin is exposed. Other symptoms include repeated smacking of the lips, convulsions that cause collapse, and problems walking.
New Zealand has been free of scrapie since the 1960s.
Exotic ungulate encephalopathy (EUE)
EUE is rare and tends only to affect several kinds of African gazelle, antelope and cattle (and one American bison kept in captivity). It is believed the disease was caused by the ungulates eating food contaminated with BSE. The last known case died in 1998.
No cases have been discovered outside Great Britain.
Feline spongiform encephalopathy (FSE)
FSE is known to affect only domestic and captive exotic cats – such as cheetahs, lions and pumas.
Transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME)
TME is a TSE that is very rare and occurs only in farmed mink.
On the lookout - ready to respond
MPI runs a TSE surveillance programme to enable early detection of any potential TSE incursions. There are incentives for farmers and vets who support the programme.
Feed regulations also in force
There are also regulations around animal feed to prevent development of the disease in farm stock.
There are no known cases of any TSE in New Zealand.
Who to contact
- To report a pest or disease, call 0800 80 99 66.
- If you have questions about the information on this page, email firstname.lastname@example.org