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Mad Cow Disease

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, is an infectious, fatal brain disease that affects cattle. It has a long incubation period of four to five years, but kills within weeks to month of its onset. According to studies in Britain, cows caught the deadly disease from eating contaminated cattle feed prepared from bovine tissues, such as brain and spinal cord.

There is strong scientific evidence that BSE is caused by a substance composed largely of a self-replicating protein called prion. It is transmitted through eating BSE-contaminated meat and bone-meal supplements in cattle feed. The hum variant of the mad cow disease is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).

It has been known to exist since the 1920s and is present throughout the world. A rare and deadly brain disease caused by an unidentified slow virus, it is characterized by rapidly progressive dementia, jerking and involuntary movements of the arms and legs. The only way to confirm the disease is by brain biopsy or autopsy. While CJD can be transmitted to other people, the risk of this happening is extremely small. Patient with CJ are usually age 50 to 75 and about 90 per cent of them die within a year.

The variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is a relatively new disease that came to prominence after the BSE outbreak in Britain in the early 1990s. It is believed to be cause by eating BSE-contaminated cattle products. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), these commonly take the form of depression, while other neurological signs include unsteadiness, difficulty walking and involuntary movements. While the age at death of patients with classic CJD is usually in the 60s, it has been reported that vCJD patients die in their 30s.

WHO stated that vCJD patients are also likely to be ill longer (a median of 14 months( than CJD patients who tend to die within a year. Between October 1996 and November 2002, there were 129 cases of vCJD reported in Britain, sic in France and one each in Canada, Ireland, Italy and the United States.


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