Mad Cow Disease

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What is Mad Cow Disease?

Mad Cow Disease (MCD) is a degenerative central nervous system disease in cattle also known as bovine spongiform excephalopathy or BSE. It was first diagnosed in cows in Great Britain in 1986. The name "Mad" was used because the animal afflicted acted crazy, dementia, with mood swings, nervousness, agitation, and instability when standing. The picture is similar to that of Alzheimer's disease but on a greatly accelerated course. The cattle with MCD die within 14 days to six months. There is no cure for this illness.

Does MCD affect humans?

No. However, there is a human version of the illness known as new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD), caused by ingestion of infected beef. The theory is that prions from animals infected with MCD are the sources of nvCJD. The "old" form of CJD is a rare brain malady affecting 2 out of one million people, caused by a virus-like organism and is also found in the United States. The nvCJD is a similar brain disease but different in many respects. It is the human version of Mad Cow Disease and is caused by ingesting food (any food) contaminated with the organism that causes MCD. The malady is fatal. Various USA governmental agencies reported that there have been no cases of MCD or nvCJD in the United States, where import restrictions on cattle from the United Kingdom have been strictly adhered to since 1989.

What does nvCJD do?

The disease attacks the brain, punching tiny holes in vital nerve tissues in it, causing irreparable and widespread damage, eventually resulting in dementia and death.

Have there been cases of nvCJD reported?

Yes. More than 80 people in England, 12 cases in Ireland and three in France have fallen fatal victims to the new variant CJD. Mad Cow Disease, on the other hand, has also been found in cattle in France, Portugal, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Belgium. The epidemic is spreading across Western Europe. No cases of nvCJD among humans, and no MCD affecting animals, have been reported in the Philippines. But we cannot be complacent and let our guard down. Our government and the public must be ever-vigilant in preventing these diseases coming to our shores and into the country.

How many cases of MCD have there been?

There have been more than 178,000 cases of Mad Cow Disease in cattle worldwide since it was first reported in the United Kingdom in 1986. As a result of MCD, about 5 millions suspect cattle have been destroyed prophylactically in England and about the same number in other European countries to prevent further spread of the disease.

Are animal parts used as cattle feed?

In the United States, it is illegal to feed livestock with feeds containing animal parts, precisely to obviate potential risk and prevent the possible contamination, onset and spread of the disease, although no cases have been reported in the USA. Health authorities put on notice hundreds of animal feed manufacturers that they could be shut down or prosecuted if they violate a 1997 law enacted to protect the people from MCD. Even one contaminated cow can result in an epidemic of catastrophic proportion.

Can MCD or CJD be transmitted by blood?

It is still not known if MCD or CJD can be transmitted by blood transfusion. The US-FDA has been investigating all other possible pathways. An advisory committee to the FDA has recently suggested expanding the ban on blood donations from long-term residents of Ireland, U.K., Portugal, France, to ensure uncontaminated blood supply in the United States. Persons who lived in any of these countries for 10 years or longer from 1980, including U.S. citizens, would not be allowed to donate blood. Last August, the FDA approved to ban blood donations from persons who had stayed at least 6 months in the U.K. from 1980-1996, for concerns that they might have eaten British beef contaminated with MCD. This ban cuts the risk of CJD from transfusion by 90% but also reduced by about 2.2% the amount of blood donation in the U.S. where there is already a blood shortage. The authorities would rather err on the side of caution to protect its entire national blood supply.

How about contaminated vaccines or supplements?

Since vaccines and dietary supplements that utilize or contain animal proteins or glandular extracts (from brains, tonsils, testicles and other organs of cattle) may have the potential risk of contamination, the FDA has been vigorously monitoring the situation and has issued stern warnings to pharmaceutical and food supplement manufacturing companies. Let the public beware!

What is Foot-And-Mouth Disease?

Popularly called FMD, Foot-and-Mouth Disease is a highly contagious illness that can spread like wildfire among cloven-hoofed animals like cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and deer. This disease can easily devastate any country's wildlife and livestock industry and would take billions of dollars to contain and irradicate. The United States has been free of FMD since 1929, but there is an increasing number of outbreaks worldwide.

Does FMD affect humans?

No, Foot-and-Mouth Disease does not pose any health hazard to humans. Humans are not susceptible to FMD, but humans can carry the FMD virus in their body (throat and nose), clothing, shoes, and personal items. Once a carrier contaminates even a single cloven-hoofed animal, a horrible epidemic could rapidly ignite throughout the country.

What precautions can travelers take?

For MCD or CJD and its new variant, the prudent prophylactic measure to take is not to eat beef, especially outside of the United States, or more specifically in suspect countries, or in countries where these diseases have been reported. For FMD, avoid visiting farms, stockyards, sale barns, animal laboratories, fairs, zoos, and other animal facilities for at least 5 days prior to travel back to your home country. Do not bring in any agricultural or animal products. If you visited one of those animal places, launder or dry clean all clothing. Dirty shoes may be cleaned with cloth soaked in chlorine solution (using a solution of 5 teaspoon of household bleach in one gallon of water), and so with all personal items, if they are soiled. Upon arrival, avoid contact with livestock or wildlife for at least 5 days. This will help minimize, if not prevent, the introduction, and subsequent spread, of Foot-and-Mouth Disease. Remember, it only takes one stupid mistake by a careless person to cause a national disaster that could devastate our country's wildlife and livestock industry.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.