Mad Cow Disease

MAD COW DISEASE

Last Updated August 16th, 2018

Overview

A small number of illnesses in humans are caused by pathogenic agents known as prions. Unlike more common pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi which contain DNA or RNA, prions are non-living entities and made up only of protein. Another interesting feature is that prions do not elicit immune responses from the body in the way that other pathogens do. Hence, they can be highly virulent. Prion diseases are usually progressive, untreatable and invariably fatal. One such deadly but rare disease is variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). The prion implicated in this disease is now known to be the very same as that which is responsible for causing a fatal illness in cattle. On account of the neurological effects of the disease in cattle, the illness has been dubbed ‘mad cow disease’.

 

What is Mad Cow Disease?

MAD COW DISEASE beefBovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, is a deadly disease affecting the central nervous system of cattle. This sickness can also affect humans in the form of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Medically, this is termed as a progressive neurodegenerative disease. It directly affects the brain and spinal cord, producing severe neurological symptoms. Like other prion diseases, this too is fatal.  It tends to leave behind fine perforations in affected nervous tissues, giving them a spongy appearance. This is why the disease is termed as ‘spongiform’ encephalopathy. It can potentially affect individuals of all ages, targeting the brain, lymphatic system, adrenal and pituitary glands and even the gastrointestinal tract.

 

What Causes It?

Prions are normal proteinaceous particles that are present on cell surfaces within our bodies. They perform certain useful functions. These are present in tissues throughout the body and even in the brain. Sometimes, misfolding of their constituent amino-acid chains can lead to the formation of virulent prions. In the case of BSE and vCJD, the prion involved begins to damage the central nervous system. It induces similar misfolding in other prions and these accumulate in the brain in the form of plaques. These plaques damage nervous tissue, leaving behind a characteristic ‘spongiform’ pattern visible under the microscope.

  • Scientists believe that humans acquire the vCJD prion by consuming beef contaminated with nervous tissues from the brains or spinal cords of diseased cattle. However, not everyone exposed to such contaminated material will necessarily develop the disease. These prions can survive intact in nerve tissue of dead animals for a long period of time and, unlike bacteria, they are not disabled or ‘killed’ by heat cooking. They are also highly resistant to ultraviolet rays and radiation methods normally used to achieve sterilization. This prion cannot, however, be acquired by consumption of dairy products from infected cattle.
  • vCJD is not normally transmissible between humans by ordinary contact, airborne infection or sexual contact. Yet, it is possible for the infection to be contracted by receiving blood transfusion from an infected individual.
  • Being younger than 30 years of age is associated with a higher risk of developing this disease.
  • Having certain genetic markers with respect to prion protein genes is a risk factor.

 

Symptoms

MAD COW DISEASEPrions are non-living but they are capable of causing disease with symptoms resembling those of viral diseases. Following infection, the incubation period may be quite long, often as much as a decade. Pathogenic prions acquired by means of blood transfusion from an infected human tend to require a somewhat shorter incubation period. In the initial stages of vCJD, patients will experience abnormal sensations and exhibit psychiatric disturbances. However, significant neurological symptoms accompanied by detectable abnormalities in the central nervous system may only manifest when the disease has attained a more advanced stage. Symptoms include:

  • Abnormal sensations in the limbs and face.
  • Persistent pains.
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Inability to sleep.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Depression
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Loss of or changes in speech.
  • Sudden, jerking movements.
  • Loss of memory.
  • Hallucinations
  • Incontinence

 

Clinical Complications

In advanced stages, the patient will develop severe and debilitating neurological symptoms and dementia. Patients will eventually become bedridden and at this point, they can develop severe infectious diseases like pneumonia. Death can occur within about a year of onset of symptoms.

 

Diagnosis

Based on the presentation of symptoms such as abnormal sensations and limb pain, the patient may initially appear to be suffering from peripheral neuropathy. More severe neurological symptoms can lead the physician to suspect the presence of certain other neurodegenerative disorders. The rarity and unfamiliarity of vCJD make it difficult to arrive at an accurate diagnosis.

  • Tests for encephalopathy may include blood chemistry tests and liver function tests.
  • Tonsil biopsy is one of the best tests for diagnosing vCJD. Samples of lymphatic tissue from organs such as the tonsils or lymph nodes will show the presence of the prion.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) and computerised tomography (CT) are capable of detecting the lesions in nervous tissue.
  • Biopsy of nervous tissue will reveal the classic spongiform pattern. However, it is not possible to perform this test in all cases. Doctors only order this test when all other tests fail to provide conclusive findings.

 

Treatment and prevention

There are no known treatment measures for this disease, but there are certain preventive measures such as

  • Find out your family history for any strains of BSE that may have been passed on to you.
  • Be careful with blood donation and transfusion as this infection mostly spreads through contact with infected blood.
  • Ensure that you do not consume meat that may have been imported from regions where this disease this endemic.
  • Do not go near animal feed if the livestock is infected.
  • Ensure that you check if the meat has been verified by a government food body before consumption.

Facts

  • This disease was first noticed in England in 1970 where it was believed to be another disease known as scrapie.
  • This disease is very rare in the United States and Canada.

Facts

  • Mad cow disease was first isolated and studied in Britain in 1986.
  • It takes at least 5 years for the symptoms to appear completely.

Facts

  • Since 1996, this disease has been diagnosed in around 230 individuals from 12 countries which include the UK,  France, Spain, & Ireland.

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Dos and Don'ts

Dos
  • Ensure that the animal whose meat is being consumed is not more than 30 months old.
  • When traveling to places where this disease might be endemic, check that the meat is approved by authentic government bodies.
  • Wear protective clothing and mask, while dealing with the infection in a lab.
  • Maintain proper hygiene if you are working in as an animal rarer.
Don'ts
  • Go near any animal if it looks sick as they might have mad cow disease.
  • Ignore hygiene, when you decide to dine out.
  • Consume any meat that may have been imported from places where this disease might be endemic.

 

 

 

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Beware of these common foods that cause high bodily inflammation! Maybe its the long list of inflammatory foods in your diet that is making you frequently sick. Find…
How to correctly perform nasal irrigation using a Neti Pot? Neti pot has been a part of Ayurveda since centuries. This ancient tool is extremely effective in treating…
Oxalates: How healthy greens can sometimes be bad news for your kidneys Oxalates are compounds present in a majority of healthy foods. However, at times an overconsumption of these could…
SIBO Diet: The important dos and don’ts of this gut-healing diet A SIBO diet is a diet that works by eliminating certain sugars from your diet and adding fibers…
11 unbelievable health benefits of thyme you didn’t know! Thyme is a herb that has been used in alternative medicine.It is a well known seasoning in the…
Balneotherapy jacuzzi
5 things you didn’t know about balneotherapy and how you can do it at home Sauna baths have been popular since a long time. But how much more beneficial can balneotherapy be as…
iron deficiency profile
Iron Deficiency Profile An iron deficiency profile is a battery of blood tests which are performed in order to determine the…
ureteroscopy
Ureteroscopy Ureteroscopy is the diagnostic procedure which is used for the detection of the kidney stones in addition to…
quinoa salad
Quinoa : A prodigious superfood you need to include in your diet today! Quinoa - what is so special about this native South American grain that has taken the world by…
L-theanine attention
L-Theanine: Better sleep, higher focus, and many other benefits Did you know that L-theanine found in green tea can make you sleep better and be focused at…
avocado benefits
Avocado: 15 reasons why this fruit should be a staple in your diet Did you know that the word avocado literally means "testicles". Don't get grossed out as this power-packed fruit…
bananas exercise
10 health reasons why you should go “bananas” over bananas! Bananas:The world's most popular fruit comes with a host of unbelievable health benefits. Find out how you can…
Coconut sugar: What is it and is it healthier than table sugar? In the long list of things that the wonderful coconut gives us, coconut sugar is another remarkable addition.…
The right way to prepare Alfalfa sprouts at home Alfalfa or lusan ghas is not just a nutritious animal fodder. This flavonoid-rich herb has some amazing health…
How to scrub away stress and fatigue with an Epsom salt bath? Epsom salt is a popular home remedy for many skin ailments. Though there is a lack of scientific…
reflexology massage
Top reasons why you should go for a reflexology massage today Reflexology involves the application of pressure to your feet and hands to encourage self-healing. Could this be beneficial…
C-Reactive Protein Test A CRP or c-reactive protein blood test is an important diagnostic tool used to determine the risk of…
thyroid_scan
Thyroid Scan Thyroid scan is a diagnostic procedure that aims to view the thyroid gland and detect any growths or…
hepatitis B envelope antigen
Hepatitis B Envelope Antigen (HBeAg) The HBeAg or hepatitis B envelope antigen test is a screening test used to diagnose the onset of…
anoscopy
Anoscopy Anoscopy is an invasive diagnostic procedure where a small device known as anoscope will be inserted in the…
vdrl test syphilis
VDRL Test The VDRL test is a blood test that is used to diagnose sexually transmitted or venereal diseases, primarily…
lp-pla2
LP-PLA2 Test The LP-PLA2 test is a test which is carried out to assess the levels of Lipoprotein-Associated Phospholipase A2…
shoudler exercises
Keep your shoulders pain-free with these shoulder exercises Shoulder exercises are important in order to prevent chronic back and neck pain. Learn more about how you…