Its a mad mad world





Mad cow disease. A few years ago, I would not have even known what this term meant, but lately I have been hearing it everywhere. Mad cow disease, medical term bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, is a malady that is wreaking havoc on Britain’s cattle herds. It is called mad cow disease because of the way infected cows act: wobbling all over as if drunk, drooling, and eventually dropping over dead. European
cows first contracted the BSE in the late 1800s after they ate feed that contained slaughter-house leftovers that were infected with this disease. Since then, the disease has spread through-out England and the surrounding areas. In 1985, the disease was first
identified by an English vet who was curious as to why cows were acting so oddly. Upon studying autopsies of dead cows, he found that they had holes in their brain: thus the name spongiform.
Experts believe that the disease is caused by an indestructible infectious agent called a “prion” The prion is a mutated version of a normal protein cell found on the surface of nerve cells in the brain. Once a person is infected, the mutated prion uses electrical impulses to trigger healthy protein cells to change from their normal coiled shape into the mutated form: flat pleats. A chain reaction follows, resulting in a cluster of tangled

non-functional proteins called plaques. These plaques destroy brain cells, resulting in a


type of disease collectively known as transmissible spongiform encephalophy. TSEs

cause inflammation and spongelike holes in the delicate membranes surrounding brain

cells. Usually, the prions attack the front lower section of the brain, the part that involves

coordination and motor skills. 3

In recent years, British officials have disclosed that, contrary to what they originally

thought, mad cow disease can be spread to humans. The human form of BSE, called

new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) is becoming more and more prevalent in

England. Since 1995, over 80 cases have been diagnosed. 1

The majority of the victims of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease are between 50 and 70.

Experts are not sure why this is, but they think it has something to do with the fact that

the incubation period of prions can be over 30 years and may be triggered into action by

the natural process of aging. 1

Symptoms of the disease start with seeming depression, then graduate into difficulty

swallowing, muscle twitching, loss of speech, paralysis, and dementia. These symptoms

can last anywhere from over a year to under a month, but always, the sure outcome is

death. 2

Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease. Doctors with CJD patients try to

make them as comfortable as possible and treat the individual symptoms, but there is

nothing they can do to stop or slow the progress of CJD. 2

England is taking great strides in prevention and control of this disease. So far, they

have slaughtered over 400,000 cows that are suspected of having BSE and are doing

research on many fronts: ways to destroy prions, prevention of the spread of BSE and

Harris 3

CJD, and they are also researching different products that contain cow by-products are in:

different foods such as Jello, and also cosmetics. 1

More than four years after scientists discovered a link between "mad cow disease"

and its human equivalent, doctors are still mystified by the illness for which there is no

cure. Of the 84 people infected by new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease more than 70

have died and no one is sure how many others may be harboring the disease. Estimates

of new infections range from hundreds to millions – a thought that is almost too scary to

contemplate.




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