SAO PAULO, April 24 (Reuters) - Brazil is investigating a potential case of atypical mad cow disease, the agriculture ministry said on Thursday, just over a year after several countries banned Brazilian beef imports when a similar case of the disease was confirmed.
A routine inspection at a slaughterhouse in Mato Grosso state found an animal that veterinarians suspect of having a neurological problems, a ministry spokesman said in an e-mail.
Laboratory tests are under way and atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, has not yet been confirmed, the e-mail said.
In late 2012 tests showed that a cow that died two years earlier in Parana state had developed the protein that causes mad cow disease, though the animal never developed the disease and died of natural causes.
The case was considered "atypical" as the animal contracted the protein spontaneously, rather than through the feed supply. Classical cases of mad cow are caused when cattle are fed brain or spinal tissue of other ruminants, which is now forbidden in nearly all beef producing countries including Brazil.
The World Animal Health Organization maintained Brazil's status as a country with an insignificant risk of BSE after it confirmed the atypical Parana case in tests carried out in England in 2012.
Even so, several countries including South Korea, China and Egypt banned some or all beef imports from Brazil, the world's top exporter.
Humans can develop what is known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease from consuming animals with mad cow, and more than 150 people have died from it. Mad cow was first discovered in Britain in 1986, but strict controls have tempered its spread.
(Reporting by Fabiola Gomes; Writing and additional reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Nick Zieminski)