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Mad Cow Disease: U.S. Experts Work to Stop It Before It Starts

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There have also been a lot of efforts taken to do determine if the disease is here, he says. "We have been looking pretty hard for seven or eight years and haven't seen it," he says.

But, will mad cow disease ultimately find it's way into the U.S. food supply?

"Never say never," he says. "It's extremely unlikely, [but] that's not to say we won't have a sick cow. We could. In the U.K., they still don't know where it came from, so it is entirely possible that we can have a case."

If this occurs, "U.S. reaction may be out of proportion. The government could do a better job of telling people just how much they are doing," says Gray. "The Germans said 'BSE will never happen here,' and it did; and people went berserk."

The bottom line is that "if we had a sick animal in the U.S., it would not be a good time to be in the hamburger business," says Gray, "[but] whether that's an appropriate response is questionable."

"Panic is a good word for what's going on [because] there has never been a case of [mad cow disease] in this country," says Ruth Kava, RD, PhD, director of nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health in New York City. "It has never been seen here. We don't have it. So I don't see a real reason for widespread fear."

"All that the FDA is doing is just precautionary," she tells WebMD. "There is no evidence that it can be transmitted through blood and no evidence that it can be found in dietary supplements."

The recent FDA actions may be related to mistakes made at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. "Early on in the epidemic, we thought it could not be transmitted through blood, so donors were not screened," she says.

But "much to our surprise and chagrin, we found that [AIDS] was blood-borne, and that gets our antenna quivering," she says.

There has been concern that dietary supplements may contain imported extracts from brains, testicles, and other organs of cattle -- and whether the cattle were exposed to mad cow disease is unknown.

"People who take dietary supplements with glandular extracts should consider what they are doing," she says. "Some glands, like tonsils, could carry infected material but not necessarily mad cow."

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