Mad Cow Disease or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) killed 180 Britons just two decades ago. A variation of the cattle-born disease can be spread to humans who eat infected beef. Scientists have revealed that the UK could be on the verge of another mad cow disease epidemic as thousands of Britons are thought to be “silent carriers” of the disease.
What is Mad Cow Disease?
The human variant of mad cow disease (BSE) is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (VCJD.)
While the disease is rare it can have fatal neurological effects.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob is caused by an abnormal infectious protein in the brain called a prion.
VCJD progressively attacks the brain, but can remain dormant for decades – scientists believe there are thousands of “silent carriers” in Britain.
The disease is untreatable and incurable despite decades of research.
There is also no test to determine if someone carries the disease.
The spread of BSE to humans was linked to the practice of feeding cattle an artificial protein supplement that was made from the remains of other animals.
The cattle-born infection led to more than four million cows to be culled and is known as Britain’s biggest ever food scandal.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of mad cow disease vary from cases to case.
According to the NHS, symptoms of CJD can develop anytime between a few months and two years.
Neurological symptoms including difficulty walking, slurred speech, numbness, dizziness and vision problems.
Other symptoms can include severe depression, extreme despair, anxiety, withdrawal, irritability and insomnia.
Will there be another outbreak?
Human-born BSE has an incubation period of between 30 and 50 years.
According to scientists, there’s is potential for another UK outbreak.
Richard Knight, Professor of Neurology at the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh, told BBC Two documentary ‘Mad Cow Disease: The Great British Beef Scandal’: “There is still so much uncertainty.
“And one of the things that is uncertain is how many people in the UK are silently infected.
“I have to say we are simply not sure, but every prediction suggests there are going to be further cases.”
What measures have been taken to stop mad cow disease comeback?
Strict controls to prevent BSE from crossing into the human food chain were put in place following the 1990s epidemic.
These measures include:
A ban on feeding meat-and-bone mix to farm animals
The removal and destruction of all parts of an animal’s carcass that could be infected with BSE
A ban on mechanically recovered meat (meat residue left on the carcass that’s pressure-blasted off the bones)
Testing on all cattle more than 30 months old (experience has shown that Infection in cattle under 30 months of age is rare, and even cattle that are infected haven’t yet developed dangerous levels of infection).