Mad cow disease

Head | Neurology | Mad cow disease (Disease)


Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, is a fatal neurodegenerative disease in cattle that causes a spongy degeneration in the brain and spinal cord. BSE has a long incubation period, about 30 months to 8 years, usually affecting adult cattle at a peak age onset of four to five years, all breeds being equally susceptible. The mad cow disease is an infectious disease in the brain of cattle caused by prions.

Causes and Risk factors

The disease is most easily transmitted to human beings by eating contaminated food: the brain, spinal cord or digestive tract of infected carcasses. However, it should also be noted that the infectious agent, although most highly concentrated in the nervous tissue, can be found in virtually all tissues throughout the body, including the blood.

Animal cells usually contain some proteins called prions. Scientists believe that the mad cow disease is caused by a change in these proteins, although it is unclear what effects have these changes. In affected cows abnormal proteins are found in the brain, spinal cord and small intestine. There is no evidence to prove that these abnormal proteins found in muscle or milk. When a cow is slaughtered, certain parts of it are used to produce food for humans and others are processed to feed other animals. If a cow is slaughtered and its nerve tissue is used for cattle feed, other cows can become infected. In rare cases people can develop the variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) if they eat the brain and spinal cord tissue of infected cattle.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The diagnosis of vCJD cannot be established with a single investigation. Doctors may suspect disease based on symptoms, medical history of the patient (the patient has other conditions) and the analysis of where he lived.

Imaging tests (reading test in one way or another a certain region of the human body, e. g. ultrasound, CT, etc. ) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can be used to detect changes that cause the vCJD. Currently, researchers are trying to find a blood test to detect vCJD, but currently no test is available. The only way to confirm the diagnosis of vCJD is brain tissue biopsy (taking a small portion of the brain and its analysis under the microscope). There is no cure for vCJD. Treatment includes managing the symptoms that occur as the disease gets worse. ...