Following the identification of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the British cattle population in 1986 epidemiological studies were launched. This paper provides an updated account of the epidemiological features of BSE from 1985, when the first cases, based on clinical histories, occurred, until 1990. The number of cases up to December 1989 represents an annual incidence of 3.9 confirmed cases per 1000 adult animals in Great Britain. Many more dairy herds were affected than beef suckler herds, a difference attributable to the difference in feeding practices between the two herd types. The geographical variation in incidence previously described has persisted with the highest incidence in the south and east of England. Other features of the epidemiology, including the low within-herd incidence, remained unaltered from the earlier findings. The results support the previously suggested hypothesis that the outbreak of BSE was due to the sudden exposure of the cattle population to a scrapie-like agent in 1981/82. There was no evidence of direct transmission between cattle during the period considered.