Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known colloquially as “Mad Cow Disease,” is a fatal, neurodegenerative disease in cattle. It is characterized by spongy degeneration in the cow’s brain and spinal cord. The disease also causes the eyes to turn red, hence the name “Mad Cow Disease.”
The disease is known to have a very long incubation period of roughly four years. Many bovines contract the disease while they are young and so the disease peaks at the cow’s peak period of life. All breeds of cow are equally susceptible to the disease so there is no wonder cow that is not affected.
The majority of scientists that have studied the disease believe that it is transmittable to humans by eating the brain or spinal cord of infected cattle. So far, globally, nearly 200 people have died due to contracting the disease. The majority of these cases have occurred in the United Kingdom.
Scientists have yet to determine from where and how the disease originated. They do know that the epidemic has been caused by cattle being fed the remains of infected cattle in the form of meal and bone meal (MBM). The MBM is found in feed as a protein supplement and is given to the cattle to increase their overall bulk. Cattle are normally herbivores so they aren’t capable of digesting this part of their diet as well.
The infectious agent is still viable at very hot temperatures. It is believed to be a protein that causes other proteins to morph.
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