Web Site Offers Comprehensive Information On Mad Cow Disease

May 04, 1998

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Looking to find the beef on Mad Cow Disease? The history of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the latest scientific news, and the most recent governmental actions regarding the problem can be found on the World Wide Web (http://w3.aces.uiuc.edu/AnSci/BSE).

The comprehensive and often-updated Web site was developed at the University of Illinois in response to numerous phone calls by both the news media and the public beginning in early 1996 following reports of BSE's transmission to humans in Great Britain.

"Within the span of a week, we were at the point of spending more than half our time just answering phone calls from the media, producers, veterinarians and others about the disease," said Jan Novakofski, a professor of animal sciences in the U. of I. College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. "The disease is such a complicated topic with so many facets that there isn't a way to provide simple, short answers."

Novakofski teamed with U. of I. colleagues Susan Brewer, a professor in the department of food science and human nutrition, and Richard Wallace, a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, to create the Web site, which has drawn more than 20,000 visitors, including 12,000 in 1997.

The three professors meet often to review new information on the topic and add it to the Web site. When created in April 1996, the U. of I. Web site had only about three companion sites on the Web. Today, Novakofski estimates there are at least 100.

"We thought all the interest would die down and go away after a short time, but it hasn't. Instead, there seems to be continuing interest," he said. The recent U.S. ban on feeding ruminants meal made from the byproducts of other ruminants -- one way the disease is spread -- and Great Britain's ban on certain cuts of meat have renewed interest in the site.

Visitors will find basic information on BSE and on Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease -- BSE's human variation -- and possible links between the two diseases. Students and others who want even more details can find a bibliography of recent scientific reviews and research papers. Also available are the clinical signs of BSE and information on its transmission, its genetics and its risk to humans and companion animals. Readers are reminded that no cases of BSE have been found in the United States.

"We have consciously set out to make this a 'middle-of-the-road' site," Novakofski said. "We try to provide answers that people of varying levels of experience can understand, from laymen to people with extensive scientific backgrounds. It is a good source for the media, and at the same time it has been cited as a source in an academic thesis in Great Britain.

"Our goal is to be completely, factually accurate and avoid the hysteria on both sides of the road," he said. "People, especially those in tragic circumstances, need answers they can trust."

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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