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Mad Cows and Mad Cow Disease

Updated on September 6, 2013

Mad Cow Disease and Prions

Mad Cow is a disease caused by a deformed prion that infects the brain and spinal cord of cattle. The deformed prion is mutated. Mad Cow's scientific name is: Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy. Prions are suspected (pree-ons) to be the cause of Mad Cow Disease. Diseased prions are abnormal. Mutated prions are the cause of tiny sponge-like holes in the brain tissue of cattle. which is where the disease gets its name. Deformed prions eat tiny, little holes in the brains of cattle, that causes the brain to become soft and spongy. The brains infected with Mad Cow Disease deteriorate, and symptoms occur that eventually affect the whole body of the cow, which results in the death of the cow. There is no cure for Mad Cow Disease, or the human form (CJD or vCJD) of the disease. There is no cure or treatment for this horribly, fatal disease.

Mad Cow Disease

Mad Cow Disease
Mad Cow Disease | Source

Prions Are Not Like Bacteria or Viruses

A prion self-replicates itself and is an infectious agent that consists only of protein. Prions can replicate like viruses. Bacteria and viruses, both, have nucleic acid, which allows them to reproduce themselves. Prions, on the other hand, don"t have a nucleic acid genome. Prions are highly resistant to heat, ultraviolet light, radiation, and disinfectants that would kill bacteria and viruses. Prions can"t be destroyed by cooking the tissues of an infected cow. The deformed prions are mostly concentrated in the brain and spinal cord tissues of infected cows. Humans can't get BSE from cattle (the cow form of the disease), but humans can acquire a human form called "Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) or New Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nVCJD). The first case of the disease was discovered in Great Britain in 1985, when a cow was seen having unusual symptoms, and soon died afterward. There have been few cases of Mad Cow disease in the United States. Only one in one million people worldwide may become infected with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. There is no cure for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The disease is fatal.

A Bovine Prion Protein

Bovine Prion protein
Bovine Prion protein | Source

Tha Causes of Mad Cow

The suspected cause of Mad Cow disease is believed to of been caused by cattle feed. Cattle were fed feed that contained rendered ingredients, which contained the infectious agent. Cattle are herbivores and they consumed rendered parts from infected cows, and other infected animals that carried the infectious prion. The rendered animals, such as cows or sheep had the diseased prion in their brains and spinal cords, and when living cattle ate the feed, they, also, acquired the deadly, fatal disease. The prion disease can take several months or even years to appear. The incubation period for cattle that acquire the disease is from two to eight years, before symptoms are noticeable. Researchers and investigators have done a lot of research in finding the cause of Mad Cow disease.

Regulations To Prevent BSE

In 1997 regulations were adopted in regards to feed for cattle to prevent BSE. Mammals may not be used in feed for cattle (cud-chewing animal) or ruminants, which could carry Mad Cow Disease. All products that are rendered must carry a label which says, "Do Not Feed To Ruminants." Sheep and certain animal parts were banned from feed for cattle. Animals with similar brain wasting diseases were banned from being used in feed, along with cows. Companies that make the feed must make sure that the feeds are not accidentally mixed up with any material that could contain BSE. They must have a system in place to prevent the mixing up of feed. They must keep records.

Prions Video

All Cattle in Canada Must Wear Eartags

On August 4, 2001 "The Canadian Cattle Identification Program", was put into effect. All of the cattle in Canada has to wear a tag on their ear with a number, so that the beef or dairy cow could be traced back to the farm where they were born to find the source of any disease. BSE has a long incubation period which could be 30 months to 8 years. New enhanced feed bans were put into effect by, The United States and Canada. In April 2009, the FDA issued a regulation that came into effect October 26, 2009. Canada put in an enhanced feed ban in 2007 that prohibits most proteins from animals from being used in feed. Specified Risk Materials (SRM) are potentially BSE infected tissues that are included in the ban, and are prohibited for use in all animal feeds, pet foods, and fertilizer, not just from cattle feed like the ban that was put into place in 1997. The United States had a similar feed ban like Canada back in 1997.

Kuru and Cannibalism

Kuru is a type of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, caused by diseased prions found in people, who practice cannibalism. When living people (cannibals) ingest a deceased individual with the disease (kuru), they acquire the disease from that individual, and die. A tribe that practices eating deceased family members that had Kuru, will eventually, develop the disease themselves, and die. Kuru may take months or even years to show its deadly symptoms. People with Kuru shiver, and they, eventually, lose all ability to walk, and then, quickly die. There's no cure for Kuru. Kuru can be prevented by not practicing cannibalism.

To Find Out More About Mad Cow Disease

Here is a site for more information about Mad Cow Disease.

Facts About Mad Cow Disease

Some facts about Mad Cow disease:

  • Mad Cow disease is also called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).
  • Mad Cow disease was recognized as a disease in 1986.
  • Mad Cow disease causes structural changes in the brain.
  • Mad Cow disease causes difficulty in muscle coordination, standing and walking.
  • Mad Cow disease caused weight loss in cattle afflicted with the disease.
  • Mad Cow disease causes a significant reduction in milk production in cows with the disease.
  • Mad Cow causes behavioral and attitude changes in cattle.
  • The first case of Mad Cow disease was discovered in the United Kingdom in 1985.
  • Cooking will not break down deformed prion proteins.
  • A case of BSE was confirmed in Canada on February 18, 2011 when a dairy cow that was born in Alberta in 2004, was found to be infected with the disease. The cow did not enter the human food or animal feed systems.
  • Mad Cow disease is fatal. There is no cure or treatment.
  • It can take years, before the symptoms of Mad Cow disease appears in a cow that is infected with the prion that causes the disease.
  • Humans can not get BSE. Humans can get Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

A fun trivia quiz on Mad Cow disease can be found at:>Cattle. There are many facts on Mad Cow disease on the funtrivia website. The quiz on Mad Cow disease can be found by clicking on animals, then other domestic animals, and finally click on cattle. The quiz is on a list of trivia quizzes on cattle.

Mad Cow, Kuru, and Prions


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    • profile image

      The Writers Dog 5 years ago

      All the more reason not to eat red meat! Voted up

    • gail641 profile image

      Gail Louise Stevenson 5 years ago from Mason City

      I agree. Thanks.

    • WildRoseBeef profile image

      WildRoseBeef 5 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      I don't know about that, Writer's Dog. Using BSE as an excuse not to eat meat is kind of like saying you won't use a shower or bath tub because 1 in 100,000 people (not sure if that's the accurate statistic or not) slip and fall and break one's hip or neck.

      Gail, according to it actually takes around 10 years (not months) for a prion to complete its incubation once it enters an animal's system. And cattle don't have to get the disease just from the "remains" of cattle (actually called animal by-product), they can eat parts of RUMINANTS (i.e., sheep and goats as well) that have been infected with the disease. Sheep and goats get what is called Scrapie, a form of BSE only instead of the "Bovine" part we have Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy. Deer, elk and bison can also get it too. It's referred to as Chronic Wasting Disease in deer and elk.

      Good article, but you failed to mention about the feed ban that has gone on in Canada and the United States. Canada has a more stringent feed ban than the US does all thanks to the US border closing in 2003 after one lone case in Alberta and a few others back east. It's mandatory that all ruminants be not fed any form of animal by-product, whether it be in chicken-litter form, or fed as blood or bone-meal. When slaughtered, all organs that are prone to house prions (called SRMs or Specified Risk Material) including the eyes, spinal cord, brain, skull, tonsils and distal ileum are removed from the carcass. This eliminates the chance of BSE ever entering the food chain. SRMs are not ever put back into the food chain, they are instead discarded.

      Here in Canada we also have a mandatory traceability program that makes it much easier to trace an animal's life back to where it was born if it came down with a suspected case of BSE. So far, despite the little extra labour in keeping all animals tagged and recorded into the CCIA (Canadian Cattle Identification Agency), it's doing it's job.

      A couple of sites you would be interested in:$department/deptdocs.n...

    • gail641 profile image

      Gail Louise Stevenson 5 years ago from Mason City

      Thanks, I will have to search for more information about the disease, and about the feed ban in the United States and Canada. Thanks for the addresses to the two sites.

    • urmilashukla23 profile image

      Urmila 5 years ago from Rancho Cucamonga,CA, USA

      Yes, red meat is not good for health. Great Information!

    • gail641 profile image

      Gail Louise Stevenson 5 years ago from Mason City

      Thanks. Those prions sound very scary!

    • Rusti Mccollum profile image

      Ruth McCollum 5 years ago from Lake Oswego, Oregon

      I saw a news clip o mad cow disease and it scared the heck out me. I don't much care or meat truthfully. These poor cows on the news (a long time ago)were suffering,One can only only hope they aren't the one in the million. I felt they should put those poor cows down.It was on the news because another country shipped us infected cattle. loved this hub.So well written. I just love your articles.voted up!

    • gail641 profile image

      Gail Louise Stevenson 5 years ago from Mason City

      Thanks, it would be awful to see cows suffering from any horrible disease, and Mad Cow Disease sounds like one of the worst diseases of all. It makes you leery of eating red meat, or anything from a cow in case there was the disease present. I know I wouldn't want to be the one in the million as no one would want to be. They probably should of put the cows down since the disease is fatal.

    • WildRoseBeef profile image

      WildRoseBeef 5 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Listen girls, they DO put the cows down if they're showing symptoms of BSE. I don't know where you're getting the idea that they don't and simply let them suffer!! A farmer or cattle producer is a helluva lot more responsible than that. If there's a sick animal that can't be treated, even if it doesn't have BSE, it gets euthanized either with a bullet or a shot from the vet.

      And if you guys read the articles I posted above, NONE, I repeat NONE of the animals that were reported to have tested positive for BSE EVER entered the food chain!

      Please don't assume these kind of things. We farmers and livestock producers aren't as cruel, heartless and indifferent as PETA, ALF and other animal rights people make us out to be!

    • Rusti Mccollum profile image

      Ruth McCollum 5 years ago from Lake Oswego, Oregon

      That was not my intention. I wasn't watching Oprah either. I know she made a huge deal of it on her show. I happen to love living in farming communities. The farmers are SO friendly.Always kind when I've bought my goods on the farms.

      I was just pointing out they DID send us infected cows.I blame the government for those cows even COMING into this country.Sorry if I offended you.I guess I should have stated they weren't used because of it. It is a horrible disease.

      I apologize if I offended anyone, that was NOT my intention.

    • gail641 profile image

      Gail Louise Stevenson 5 years ago from Mason City

      It is a horrible disease. I know that I wasn't offended at all. Really good comments. Peta can be nasty I think. The farmers and ranchers have been very responsible. Sending infected cows to this country is bad. A lot of cattle were destroyed because of BSE. I don't want to offend anybody, either.

    • WildRoseBeef profile image

      WildRoseBeef 5 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      I never watched that episode of Oprah and probably will never get a chance to, but I'm just saying that it sounded like (well, at least from what Gail had wrote) that producers didn't do anything to put those cows out of their misery, which is why I made that comment like I did. So no offense taken, on you or Gail's part.

      I don't know who to blame for this whole shebang. I mean, the thing is from the federal reports I've read a while back (from the Canadian government, not the American government), it was stated that the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) predicted an outbreak of BSE ten years after the initial cases came through ten (now twenty) years ago from the United Kingdom. They've had a feed ban in place since then, but it wasn't as stringent then as it is when the lone case in Alberta came up in 2003 and the states slammed it's borders shut on our (Canadian's) faces.

      The thing is is that the media really made a big deal of it, so much so that prices plummeted overnight and caused a lot of producers to go bankrupt and sell off their herds. And of course once the USDA caught wind of it the border was ordered closed immediately.

      The government is to blame for this, of course. I mean they seen this coming, and the American government should've seen it coming too just like Canada did. The cases that were imported from the U.K. 20 years ago were not only imported to Canada, but to the United States as well, admittedly most from Canada to the US. Since Canada found out about the BSE outbreak in the U.K., the Canadian borders were closed to all U.K. imports, as were the American's. I'm not sure if the US shut its borders on Canada to at that time, but from what I remember I doubt they did. The BSE-infected cattle were tracked down (some of them) but unfortunately, not all of them were found. Because there was no way to trace them, it was impossible for the CFIA to even be able to do anything about it except put in place a feed ban for Canadian cattle. What did the USA do about this? From what I know, they did nothing, likely confident that nothing would happen in their herds because they knew (or assumed) that all of the cases would be up in Canada. Ten years later, more cases cropped up. Only this time the CFIA were ready, and put in a more stringent and mandatory feed ban in AND a traceability mandate for all ruminant animals. Problem was not all the cattle that were found to be tested positive in the States originated from Canada! Even more interesting, that lone cow that tested positive for BSE in Alberta in 2003 was traced back to the United States!! All of these things combined made me and a lot of Canadian producers question the shoot-first-ask-questions-later action of the US border closing to all Canadian cattle when in fact they were obviously having some issues of BSE standing within their own borders!!

      The US still hasn't done much to guard against another outbreak of BSE. Oh, but they gotta say that the USA is "BSE-free" which I think is a pot load of crap. If they're so "clean" like they're claiming to be, tell me, why is it that they haven't put in place the same kind of traceability plan like Canada and a few other countries have? Why are they still letting people get away with feeding cattle chicken litter and that when obviously any form of chicken litter (which is not just feces from chickens, also contains spilled feed as well) still contains some level of ruminant animal by-product in it?! It just boggles my mind, and no wonder people in the States are turning away from beef like they are! Yeah, kudos to them, but I say if you want some good beef that doesn't have nearly the risk factor of BSE, come to Canada, you'll get some good quality beef from up here!

      Yeah, BSE is a terrible disease, but it's also caused a lot of mess in politics and the farming community. I hope nothing like what happened in 2003 ever happens again.

    • Rusti Mccollum profile image

      Ruth McCollum 5 years ago from Lake Oswego, Oregon

      We say down here after Katrina ( for example) your government is not coming. I agree with you that tracing beef is as important as what we feed them.That being said The USA isn't coming,weaver on our own.Katrina got hardly any gov. Help. Most of the help they received was from the people rolling up their sleeves and got boats,it's bs they did so much as you saw on T.V.T truth is they shoved them in a convention center,without any order. Women claimed rape more than once,the toilets were backed up. The gov. Paid no attention. They could have first of allhad the military present for order. Then maintenance to fix things like broken restrooms. I know this is about beef.I too agree our gov. Did nothing but put down a couple cows.Other than that,The gov left it up to the farmers. It's no news our gov. Sucks! If it doesn't hurt them,or their families they just don't care.Our last two presidents have screwed us up royally. So it's not inconceivable that our gov is gonna check cows they need to still tag the cows as our Canadian friends. We all know down here the only ones coming are us! Some tainted beef is NOT high on the gov. List to fix. I applause the Canadians and other countries that DID take action.Maybe I'll just become a Canadian citizen and live where they care for their people.

    • WildRoseBeef profile image

      WildRoseBeef 5 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Rusti, I'm curious, what happened with the whole thing with Oprah and her thing about BSE? I've never really heard the full story and it's always been something I was curious about.

      That Katrina disaster you folks went through certainly sounded like a very sad and devastating thing. Sounds like New Orleans still hasn't fully recovered from it yet.

    • profile image

      Millicent 2 years ago

      You put the lime in the counoct and drink the article up.

    • profile image

      Kalin 2 years ago

      At last! Someone with real exeirtpse gives us the answer. Thanks!

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