What is mad cow disease?
Reviewed by David Franklin, MD
Mad cow disease is medically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE for short and gets it’s nick name fro the fact the disease effect’s the cows nervous system. An infected cow appears to behave as though it is mad as it loses its ability to act in a normal manner. For instance it may forget how to walk. A cow suffering from BSE contracts an infection, which causes a deterioration of the brain. It is not yet sure where the infection comes from, but it is believed to be in some kinds of food given to cows. Some of the food contained the remains of dead cows that were infected, and so by eating it, the infection was passed on. Mad cow disease affects the brain and the spinal chord so it is the remains of these parts of the cow that need to be contained in the food.BSE was worrying to people as it can also be passed on to us if we eat meat from a cow with BSE. The human form is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CJD for short and is a severe condition affecting the brain. This human form of mad cow disease is very rare, with approximately 1 in a million people becoming infected with it. It can’t be spread amongst people, as it is not contagious just as it can’t be spread amongst cows. Mad cow disease being discovered in the United States will cause an increased concern about the spread of the CJD in humans. There are many people actively working to prevent beef, which is contaminated with BSE from reaching stores and being sold to the public. Manufacturers are not supposed to use the brains or spinal chord to make any food products and there has been a test designed to identify all cows that may be suffering from mad cow disease. There is a also a system in place which traces all products so if the disease is detected after the product hits supermarket shelves they can be identified, removed from distribution and customers warned of the dangers.For anyone worried about eating beef and becoming infected with CJD, there are certain precautions you can take. Certain cuts of meat pose less of a risk than others. Ground beef, used to make hamburgers contains the highest risk, whereas whole pieces of meat such as steak are less worrying.. Additionally there doesn’t have to be any concern about the consumption of milk. Mad cow disease cannot be passed into milk, so milk or milk products will be contaminated.