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Japan suspects first case of mad cow

TOKYO, Japan -- Japanese officials believe they may have found the first case of an animal infected with mad cow disease.

Japan's agriculture ministry told the Mainichi daily they have found a cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Chiba prefecture, says CNN's Peter Hadfield, reporting from Chiba.

BSE is otherwise known as mad cow disease, a brain-wasting illness that has been linked to the fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob (CJD) disease in humans.

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CJD kills its carrier by eating holes in brain tissue and humans can catch it by eating infected meat.

This is the first known case of the disease in Japan and in Asia, according to Japan's ministry of health.

Until now, mad cow disease has only been confirmed in Western Europe.

Japan has tried to prevent the disease from entering its borders by restricting blood donations from people who lived in Britain -- where more than 100 cases have been discovered -- since 1980.

Mad cow disease was diagnosed in Europe in 1986 and resulted in wholesale herd slaughtering, mandatory testing and a European Union ban on British beef exports that has since been lifted.

Amid signs of spreading mad cow disease across Europe, Japan last year banned E.U. beef and food made from processed beef and bull sperm, which is used for breeding.

Confirmed case

Confirmed case

Japan's agriculture ministry issued a statement on Monday that one case has been confirmed ahead of a media briefing at the ministry.

No further details were immediately available.

Chiba which lies east of Tokyo is not a big dairy region, says Hadfield, with small family plots the most common form of farming.

If the disease had been discovered in northern Japan, in places such as Hokkaido, it would be much more serious, he added.

Scientists believe BSE is transmitted through infected meat-and-bone meal fed to cattle.

Asia at risk

The U. N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in June that Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East were particularly at risk from mad cow disease because they imported large quantities of meat-based animal feed from Western Europe, Reuters news agency has reported.

Using Japanese government data, E.U. scientists had given Japan a risk-rating of three on a rising scale of one to four, Reuters reported.

Asia at risk

They have judged Australia and the United States, by contrast, to be free of any risk of BSE.

Veterinary experts from the European Union have been working to assess the degree of risk of mad cow disease in non-member countries to ensure contaminated meat is not re-imported into the 15-nation bloc.

Japan started in April to check for BSE in cattle that showed abnormal symptoms before they died.

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