is Mad Cow Disease?
Mad cow disease is one of the most lethal and shocking illnesses in the world today. This dreadful malady is scientifically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy when it occurs in cattle and variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease when it occurs in humans. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy is categorized with other diseases in an anthology called transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. A “TSE” is a disease that is exemplified by its extreme effect on the animal’s brain. When mad cow disease was discovered during the twentieth century, it astounded and confused scientists. This frightening and grave ailment still alarms people with its shocking symptoms and fatality today.
Many diseases that are spread abnormally are caused by microbes but the infamous mad cow disease is actually caused by an infectious protein called a prion. These prion proteins are spread when the body of an infected cow or human is eaten by another being. When in an animal, the proteins actually become severely deformed into a contagious shape, and while in this form, the disease breeds plaque fibers, which slowly eat away at the victim’s brain.
The symptoms of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) are infectious and interesting. In cattle, the symptoms of the disease come very slowly. The first symptoms of BSE are typically an odd change in activity and attitude. Then the infected animal will begin to become increasingly uncoordinated and have trouble performing simple movements, such as walking and standing. The cow may then experience a noticeable decrease in weight, without any loss of appetite and it may begin to lag in milk production. These symptoms may become worse and worse, until the animal eventually dies. The symptoms of BSE in humans are similar to those in cattle. People who have variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (vCJD) usually begin to lose their ability to remember, concentrate, and judge things and situations. This disease is different from the typical “classic” Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease, for that disease has absolutely no connection with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Some citizens who fall ill to this malady experience a definite change in personality, emotional disturbances, or even madness. As the disease progresses some patients have strong difficulties with movement and experience severe muscle jerks. These serious symptoms continue until the infected patient falls tragically into a coma and eventually dies.
History of Mad Cow Disease
The bovine spongiform encephalopathy breakout in England was first realized in the year 1986 when farmers recognized that something was happening to their cattle. In farming, it is convenient and healthy for cattle to be fed soybean meal as a part of their diet. In England, soybeans don’t grow well, so British farmers fed their cattle an animal byproduct which contained the mixed meat and bones of cattle and sheep. This practice caused the infected brains, nervous systems, and blood of infected cattle to be fed to other cows, thus filling them with an accumulation of infected meat. Obviously, more and more cows became infected and more and more cattle began to die. Also, at this time, the British had not declared a law that required the cattle feed to undergo an intense steam boiling process because they wanted to keep meat prices competitive. It is predicted that at least 400,000 victim cattle were on the market during the 1980s. The BSE epidemic officially ended when all of the cattle herds that were suspected were amassed. The variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (vCJD) cases in England were also caused by the cattle byproduct. People who became infected with vCJD either ate contaminated cattle meat or inhaled the disease while using the cattle anatomy as fertilizer. As of the year 2004, 157 had for sure been infected and killed with variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease and the full extent of its fatal influence is still unknown. In 2004, there was a small suspicion that another form of the BSE protein had come to light and began infecting people and cattle. These prion proteins tended to clump, and their affect was similar to the affect of the traditional Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease. However, nothing is known about this separate string of bovine spongiform encephalopathy prions.
As of the year 2005, five cases of the dreaded bovine spongiform encephalopathy had occurred in North America. The United States has taken extreme precaution to prevent any cases of vCJD in North America by banning the eating of downer cattle and by testing and slaughtering many suspected cows. The US tested 20,526 cows and killed 35 million just to keep vCJD from spreading in North America. Some of the tests performed show misshaped prions in clusters, though it is unknown of the seriousness of these organisms. The United States also switched its procedure of testing to quicken the determination of contamination. Due to the small BSE outbreak in North America, the economy of the countries was actually affected. The people of Korea and Japan refused to buy U.S. meat until they could ensure that it was healthy to consume. These two countries are top consumers of American beef. By refusing to import it, the money that America made through beef production greatly dropped.
There are a number of treatments and precautions taken to help and prevent mad cow disease. In reality there are no medicines or treatments on the market that will completely alleviate BSE or vCJD because the prions that cause these diseases are incurable. However, there are medicines that doctors can prescribe to ease a patient’s pain or symptoms. For example, if a victim of vCJD was having seizures due to the deadly disease, the professional can prescribe a medicine to relieve them. There are doctors who are working to make medications and vaccines that will hinder or avert the horrors of BSE and vCJD. There are many precautions being taken by the countries of the world to prevent people from inheriting variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease. The United States has issued laws that keep butchers from using an animal’s brain and spinal cord in human consumption beef. There are also testing and recalling organizations that can identify infected cows and pull possibly tainted meat on the market.
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