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BSE infectivity survives burial for five years with only limited spread

Somerville, Robert A; Fernie, Karen; Smith, Allister; Bishop, Keith; Maddison, Ben C; Gough, Kevin C; Id, *; Hunter, Nora; Gough, Kevin C

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Robert A Somerville

Karen Fernie

Allister Smith

Keith Bishop

Ben C Maddison

Professor of Biochemistry and Pathology

* Id

Nora Hunter

Kevin C Gough


© 2019, The Author(s). The carcasses of animals infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), scrapie or chronic wasting disease (CWD) that remain in the environment (exposed or buried) may continue to act as reservoirs of infectivity. We conducted two experiments under near-field conditions to investigate the survival and dissemination of BSE infectivity after burial in a clay or sandy soil. BSE infectivity was either contained within a bovine skull or buried as an uncontained bolus of BSE-infected brain. Throughout the five-year period of the experiment, BSE infectivity was recovered in similar amounts from heads exhumed annually from both types of soil. Very low levels of infectivity were detected in the soil immediately surrounding the heads, but not in samples remote from them. Similarly, there was no evidence of significant lateral movement of infectivity from the buried bolus over 4 years although there was a little vertical movement in both directions. However, bioassay analysis of limited numbers of samples of rain water that had drained through the bolus clay lysimeter indicated that infectivity was present in filtrates. sPMCA analysis also detected low levels of PrP Sc in the filtrates up to 25 months following burial, raising the concern that leakage of infectivity into ground water could occur. We conclude that transmissible spongiform encephalopathy infectivity is likely to survive burial for long periods of time, but not to migrate far from the site of burial unless a vector or rain water drainage transports it. Risk assessments of contaminated sites should take these findings into account.


Somerville, R. A., Fernie, K., Smith, A., Bishop, K., Maddison, B. C., Gough, K. C., …Gough, K. C. (2019). BSE infectivity survives burial for five years with only limited spread. Archives of Virology, 164(4), 1135–1145.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 19, 2019
Online Publication Date Feb 24, 2019
Publication Date 2019-04
Deposit Date Jan 29, 2019
Publicly Available Date Apr 2, 2019
Journal Archives of Virology
Print ISSN 0304-8608
Electronic ISSN 1432-8798
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 164
Issue 4
Pages 1135–1145
Keywords TSE agent; environment; soil; survival of infectivity * corresponding authors emails
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Received: 13 November 2018; Accepted: 21 December 2018; First Online: 24 February 2019; : ; : This work was supported by Defra [grant number SE1433]; and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council [grant number BB/J004332/1]. The authors declare they have no competing interests.; : All use of animals, the collection of animal tissues, and the use of such tissues were carried out in accordance with the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act (ASPA) 1986, under licences from the UK Government Home Office (Project Licence 60/2544). All animal experiments were subject to review and approval (01-124) by The Roslin Institute Ethical Review Committee, and euthanasia methods were approved by the UK Home Office.; : This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


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