Skip to content

    Mad Cow Disease

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Overview

    What is mad cow disease, and does it infect people?

    Mad cow disease is a fatal disease that slowly destroys the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) in cattle. It also is known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.

    People cannot get mad cow disease. But in rare cases they may get a human form of mad cow disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which is fatal.

    Recommended Related to

    Cholera

    Cholera is an infectious disease that causes severe watery diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration and even death if untreated. It is caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with a bacterium called Vibrio cholerae. Cholera was prevalent in the U.S. in the 1800s, before modern water and sewage treatment systems eliminated its spread by contaminated water. Only about 10 cases of cholera are reported each year in the U.S. and half of these are acquired abroad. Rarely, contaminated...

    Read the Cholera article > >

    This can happen if you eat nerve tissue (the brain and spinal cord) of cattle that were infected with mad cow disease. Over time, vCJD destroys the brain and spinal cord.

    There is no evidence that people can get mad cow disease or vCJD from eating muscle meat-which is used for ground beef, roasts, and steaks-or from consuming milk or milk products.

    People with vCJD cannot spread it to others through casual contact.

    People who have spent a lot of time (at least 3 months) in places where mad cow disease has been found are not allowed to give blood in the United States or Canada.2, 1 This is to help prevent vCJD from spreading.

    What causes mad cow disease and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD)?

    Experts are not sure what causes mad cow disease or vCJD.

    The leading theory is that the disease is caused by infectious proteins called prions (say "PREE-ons"). In affected cows, these proteins are found in the brain, spinal cord, and small intestine. There is no proof that prions are found in muscle meat (such as steak) or in milk.

    When a cow is slaughtered, parts of it are used for human food and other parts are used in animal feed. If an infected cow is slaughtered and its nerve tissue is used in cattle feed, other cows can become infected.

    People can get vCJD if they eat the brain or spinal cord tissue of infected cattle.

    How common are mad cow disease and vCJD?

    The first case of vCJD was reported in 1996. Since then, there have been a few cases of vCJD reported in the world. Most of the cases have been in countries that are part of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland).

    1 | 2

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
    Next Article:

    Hot Topics

    WebMD Video: Now Playing

    Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

    Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

    disciplining a boy
    Types, symptoms, causes.
    fruit drinks
    Eat these to think better.
    embarrassed woman
    Do you feel guilty after eating?
    diabetes supply kit
    Pack and prepare.
    handful of vegetables and vitamins
    Diet tips and mistakes.
    birth control pills
    Which kind is right for you?
    Remember your finger
    Are you getting more forgetful?
    sticky notes on face
    10 tips to clear your brain fog.
    Close up of eye
    12 reasons you're distracted.
    Trainer demonstrating exercise for RA
    Exercises for your joints.
    apple slices with peanut butter
    What goes best with workouts?
    woman having a good day
    Revitalize your life.

    Women's Health Newsletter

    Find out what women really need.