The commonly referred to mad cow disease (MCD) is also known as the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in scientific circles. This is a neurodegenerative disease in cattle which causes the brain and spinal cord to deteriorate to a spongy matter and it ultimately leads to death. The mad cow disease affects all breeds of cattle and usually in their middle adult life.
There is a consensus among most scientists who all believe that humans who ingest any part of an infected animal will develop the disease. However, the mad cow disease in humans evolves slightly differently and is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD or nvCJD).
Statistical Findings Relating to the Mad Cow Disease
The statistical findings as of January of 2009 are as follows:
- Documented cases of the mad cow disease were wide spread throughout Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, Africa and the Americas for a total of nearly 189,00 cattle. Out of that staggering total, the United Kingdom was most heavily affected as it tallied nearly 184,000 of its cattle which were infected. Only three cows were found infected with the mad cow disease in the United States.
- In an aggressive program to fully stamp out the mad cow disease, the United Kingdom led 4.4 million heads of cattle to slaughter.
- Documented cases of people who were killed by the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease as a result of having eaten infected meat totaled 164 in the United Kingdom and 42 in other parts of the world.
Scientists fear that the death toll among humans will rise considerable for two reasons:
a) The incubation time of the disease is four to five years and therefore all the infected cases could not have appeared yet.
b) There is an estimated count of between 460,000 and 482,000 cattle that were infected with the mad cow disease and made their way into the human food chain before their infestation was discovered.
Causes of the Mad Cow Disease
Where the mad cow disease originated from is still a mystery. But scientists determined that the epidemic was cause when cattle, which are herbivores (plant eaters), were fed meal produced from the meat and bones of other cattle carcasses which were apparently infected. Additionally, very young calves were fed protein supplements that also tested positive for the mad cow disease. In addition, it is surmised that the mad cow disease can easily spread from one animal to another by physical contact.
The Similarities and the Differences between the Mad Cow Disease and the Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
In both, the mad cow disease and the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease there seem to be more similarities than differences:
- – They are both incurable and fatal.
- – They both affect the nervous system when the brain and spinal cord deteriorates and becomes spongy.
- – They both result in the loss of mental and physical control.
- – They both show the existence of an abnormal protein in the brain called prion.
- – They both have very long incubation time of between four to five years.
- – They both progress very rapidly once the disease manifests itself.
- – Whereas the mad cow disease can be contracted by physical contact of one animal to another.
- – The variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is not contagious or transmittable from one person to another.
In conclusion and in an effort to set my readers’ minds at ease, I would like to quote John Clifford, the USDA’s current chief veterinarian who said the following: “I want to emphasize that human and animal health in the United States are protected by a system of interlocking safeguards, and that we remain very confident in the safety of U.S. beef.”