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Human Form of Mad Cow Disease

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathies (BSE) is a prion disease commonly known as mad cow disease, which affects the central nervous system and eventually leads to death. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathies kills brain cells and neurons, leaving small holes, causing the brain to have a "sponge-like" texture. The human form of infection is called the new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob (nvCJD) disease.

Human Form of Mad Cow Disease

It was concluded that the new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob (nvCJD) disease in humans was transmitted by eating beef products which contained tissue from the cow's nervous system. According to the Organic Consumers Association, the European Union and Japan follow strict standards in preventing BSE products into the country. There are thousands of U.S. citizens who are urging the United States Government to implement these same standards. The standards include testing all cattle planned to be consumed, ban feeding cattle blood and manure, and prevent farmers from being harassed when deciding to test their own animals (Organic Consumers Association, n.d.).

The History of the Disease

95 percent of BSE cases have been found in the United Kingdom, where it was first diagnosed in 1986. Mad cow disease was first diagnosed in 1986, and started in Britain Since then, Japan, Israel, Canada, 20 European countries, and also the United States have identified BSE in their country (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2009). According to an article in the Journal of Family Practice, December 23, 2003, a dairy cow in Washington State was the first case of BSE in the United States. After tracking the origin of the cow, it was found to be from Canada. Minus the brain, spinal cord, and small intestine, the rest of the cow remains were released for human consumption. Sometime after, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recalled all the slaughtered meat from the plant on the same day the infected cow was butchered. Since the cow was found in Washington, the USDA has taken preventative measures preventing BSE contaminated products from consumers and has restricted the import of meat derived products exported from high risk countries containing BSE. Other measures taken include the ban of cattle feed containing meat and bone, and yearly examinations which test for BSE in nearly 5,000 to 20,000 cattle used for human consumption (Henley & Herrmann, 2004).

Incubation and Symptoms

There is a big possibility that more people are infected with this disease, and don't know it because according to the Organic Consumers Association, the incubation period could take 30-50 years. The first symptoms a person may notice is a change in their personality which rapidly deteriorates and includes anxiety, depression, memory loss, impaired thinking, impaired muscle coordination, blurred vision, insomnia, and speech impairment. As soon as the first symptom appears, the average time they have left before they die is about 14 months, but can range from 7 to 24 months (Sheff, B., 2005).

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, the new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob (nvCJD) disease along with all the other spongiform encephalopathy diseases has no cure. These disease symptoms can take years to show up, so the person could die before it has a chance of killing them. A person can ultimately avoid the infection of this type of disease by being a vegetarian, and anyone choosing to eat beef products is taking the risk, even though becoming infected is very rare.


Henley, E., & Herrmann, J. (2004). Mad Cow disease: Dealing sensibly with a new concern. Journal of Family Practice, 53(8), 645-648. Retrieved from Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition database.

Sheff, B. (2005). Combating infection. Mad cow disease and vCJD: understanding the risks. Nursing, 35(2), 74-75. Retrieved from CINAHL with Full Text database.

Organic Consumers Association (2001, June 21). Mad cow incubation researched; some human patients may not show symptoms for as long as 50 years and the average is 30 years. Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved December 1, 2009, from

Organic Consumers Association (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2009, from

U.S. Department of Agriculture, (2009, November 29). BRIEF: What is mad cow disease?. Yakima Herald-Republic (WA), Retrieved from Newspaper Source database.