National Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies Surveillance Program (NTSESP)

Page last updated: Monday, 8 July 2019 - 10:29am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

The National TSE Surveillance Program (NTSESP) conducts surveillance for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) in cattle and scrapie in sheep.

BSE and scrapie do not occur in Australia, but Australia is required to have a surveillance program to provide assurance that BSE and scrapie do not occur.

Producers and veterinarians who have suitable cattle and sheep autopsied under the program may claim a rebate.

Are you looking for the NTSESP claim forms? See the forms webpage.

What are TSEs?

Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) are progressive and fatal neurological diseases of animals. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy of cattle (BSE or mad cow disease) and scrapie of sheep are the best known animal TSEs. Animals with these diseases do not respond to treatment and all affected animals die.

BSE and scrapie do not occur in Australia. To continue to be classified as 'free of BSE and scrapie' and to maintain access to international markets, Australia must have a surveillance program to detect cases of BSE and scrapie if they occur.

What are the signs of TSEs?

Animals with TSEs show neurological signs such as:
  • changes in behaviour
  • gait abnormalities such as 'the staggers'
  • constant trembling
  • increased sensitivity to sound and touch
  • persistent itchiness in sheep.

History of BSE and scrapie

BSE was first recognised in the United Kingdom in the 1980s.

BSE has only ever been transmitted to cattle or other ruminants by feeding infective material, such as meatmeal prepared from BSE-affected livestock. Feeding meatmeal to cattle or other ruminants is prohibited in Australia.

If BSE occurred in Australia it would result in major disruptions to domestic and export trade in cattle and cattle products.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) is a recognised human TSE. A new form of this disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) is thought to be linked to humans consuming BSE-infected cattle.

Scrapie has been recognised since the eighteenth century. Scrapie can be transmitted to other sheep by contact with infected sheep and the properties where they graze.

TSE surveillance in Australia

The National TSE Surveillance Program (NTSESP) is jointly funded by industry and governments to conduct surveillance for BSE and scrapie.  

This program is designed to demonstrate that Australia does not have BSE or scrapie. If an animal has any of the signs of a TSE, having it tested to rule out BSE and scrapie will help provide proof Australia is free from BSE and scrapie.

How can I help?

Producers who identify cattle or sheep with neurological signs or sheep with persistent itchiness should contact their private veterinarian or Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) veterinary officer to discuss the inclusion of the animal in the TSE surveillance program.

To be part of the NTSESP, a veterinarian must autopsy affected sheep or cattle and submit the brain and other samples for further testing. Cattle must be 30 months of age or older but less than nine years of age and sheep must be over 18 months of age or older, but preferably less than five years of age.

Rebates are available for producers and veterinarians participating in the NTSESP.  

Laboratory examination may diagnose the cause of the neurological condition at significantly reduced cost to the producer at the same time as ruling out TSE.

Rebates available

Producers who have suitable animals autopsied for the program are entitled to claim $330 for cattle and $110 for sheep (GST inclusive). Producers may claim this payment for up to two animals per disease outbreak per property.

Private veterinarians who examine cases of nervous disease in cattle and sheep and submit the appropriate samples and paperwork to a government laboratory for TSE exclusion are also entitled to claim a rebate.

Veterinarians are eligible for the following rebates:

  • cattle: $330 per animal (GST inclusive) for a maximum of two cattle per outbreak per property
  • sheep: the national TSE rebate is $220 per sheep (GST inclusive) for a maximum of two sheep per outbreak per property. DPIRD will provide an additional $110 (GST inclusive) for one sheep per outbreak per property where a full post-mortem examination is conducted and a range of specimens are submitted to support a likely differential diagnosis
  • travel rebate for a maximum total travel distance of 200 kilometres.

The program also covers the cost of laboratory fees where they would normally be charged and subsidises the cost of freighting samples to the laboratory.

Laboratory submission and claim forms

The forms required for each NTSESP case can be downloaded from the webpage Forms for WA vets and livestock producers - disease investigations, laboratory submissions, subsidy claims.

Note that for each NTSESP case, the following forms must be completed and submitted to DPIRD Diagnostics and Laboratory Services (DDLS):

If you have any difficulty accessing the forms, contact your local DPIRD vet.