The objective of this study was to model the expected numbers of cattle incubating bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and the numbers of clinical cases of BSE in the Swiss cattle population between 1984 encephalopathy (BSE) and the numbers of clinical cases of BSE in the Swiss cattle population between 1984 and 2005. The results were compared with the observed number of clinical BSE cases and with the results of a culling and testing scheme on herdmates of cattle with BSE. The age distribution of the Swiss cattle population, the age-at-death distribution of the first 235 BSE cases and exposure information were used to calculate the expected number of infected cattle in each birth cohort and the resulting numbers of clinical cases and survivors incubating the disease for each year. The model which did not assume any underreporting of cases fitted the observed epidemic curve of clinical cases reasonably well, and predicted that the Swiss BSE epidemic would come to an end between 2003 and 2005. The age of survivors incubating BSE iS increasing. The higher than expected incidence of subclinical cases observed in animals from the culling scheme is most probably the result of the heterogeneous distribution of infected animals and affected herds in the population. The results of the model need to be taken into account when designing surveillance and testing schemes for BSE.