Mad Cow Disease: Spongiform Encephalopathy (Epidemics)

840 words - 3 pages

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease, degenerativebrain disorder of cattle. Symptoms in cows include loss of coordination and a typicalstaggering gait. Affected animals also show signs of senility, for example, lack ofinterest in their surroundings, the abandonment of routine habits, disinterest infeed and water, or unpredictable behavior. Affected cattle show symptoms whenthey are three to ten years old.First identified in Britain in November 1986, over 170,000 cases have sincebeen recorded there. Sporadic incidences have been confirmed in other Europeancountries, with Switzerland (over 260 cases) and Ireland (over 260 cases)identifying the largest number. It has also been recognized in Canada, where casesare confined to dairy cows imported from Britain. BSE has not been officiallyconfirmed in the United States or any other major milk-producing country.Autopsies of affected cattle reveal holes in the brain tissue that give it a spongy, orspongiform, texture. Similar spongiform diseases have been recognized in humans(for example, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD) for over a century and in sheep(scrapie) for over 200 years. The cause of BSE is unproven, although there is strongevidence that prions, which may be ineffective proteins, are the agent. Otherhypotheses suggest that prions work with an as yet undetected virus to cause theinfection.Recycled animal tissue, which had been routinely fed to British dairy cows asa protein supplement, was identified as the source of the infection. The EuropeanCommission's Scientific Veterinary Committee and the world control body, theFédération Internationale des Epizooties (FNE) believes that BSE was originallyspread from sheep's brains infected with scrapie and that its spread wasaccidentally accelerated by the ingestion of brain tissue taken from cows that hadbecome infected with BSE.Following through with this fodder transmission theory, the Britishgovernment introduced compulsory destruction of suspect animals and theircarcasses beginning in 1988. The feeding of animal tissue to cows was banned inBritain in July 1988 and since mid-1992, monitors working for the United KingdomMinistry of Agriculture have recorded a persistent decline in the number ofconfirmed cases. It is estimated that the program will eradicate BSE in Britain bythe end of 1999.Since the initial report of the disease, there has been fear and speculationthat it might be transferable to humans through milk or beef products. Theappearance of CJD in several dairy farmers in Britain in the early 1990s heightenedthe alarm. The medical community was aware of the similarity of CJD symptoms tothose of BSE and the documented fact that a related disease, known as kuru, wasspread by ritualistic cannibalism among New Guinea tribesmen. In late 1990,consumer concern over...

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