Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Prevention

Understand what bovine spongiform encephalopathy prevention entails

To learn the tips for bovine spongiform encephalopathy prevention, it helps to understand a little information about it.

Typically, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is also known as mad cow disease, and it's a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) that usually affects the cattle. The TSE is a family of diseases of animals and humans that are characterized by a spongy brain degeneration with fatal neurological symptoms.

BSE affects humans, cats, cattle and some other types of animals. This condition usually has a long incubation period that can last for 4 to 5 years. In cattle, BSE is fatal and can lead to death with weeks or months of its onset. This degenerative and progressive disease usually affects the nervous system.

The causative agent of BSE is still a big debate, and some researchers believe that the agent that causes this disease is an abnormal version of a protein found on prion, a protein particle that tends to be resistant to destruction. The protein is usually altered and harms the nervous system tissues, including the spinal cord and brain.

Effects of BSE to cattle

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy causes progressive degeneration of the nervous system in cattle, leading to variations in temperament such as aggression, nervousness, abnormal posture, poor coordination, inability to stand, reduced milk production, and reduced body weight.

During the onset of the condition, the symptoms are usually hard to notice or slight. Also, not all affected cattle will show the signs of BSE.

How does BSE affect humans?

In humans, the variant of bovine spongiform encephalopathy is known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Doctors believe that it's caused by eating meat that is contaminated with the central nervous system from a cattle with BSE.

For this reason, the USDA requires spinal chord and brain materials of high-risk cattle, such as those that are old, can't walk or those with neurological symptoms, to be removed from the meat. With these materials removed, the USDA believes that the consumers are protected from vCJD.

There have been several cases of deaths due to vCJD in the U.S., and only four cases of BSE have been reported to date, as stated by the Food and Drug Administration. This infection can affect people of all age groups and diagnosis is usually hard until it has run its course.

In the onset of vCJD, victims usually experience symptoms that are related to the nervous system, such as poor coordination and depression. As the condition advances, the patient develops dementia. This condition becomes fatal after about 13 months since the first symptoms appeared.

Prevention of BSE

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy prevention: Generally, the cases of BSE is the U.S. have been low. Since 1989, the government has placed strict restrictions on the importation of live animals, such as goats, sheep, and cattle. There is also a ban on meat products used in pet, animal, and human foods.

To add to that, the central nervous system is usually removed from animals slaughtered for meat. This is a USDA requirement implemented in 2004.

So, it's highly unlikely for a person to get vCJD from eating food bought in the U.S. Most cases of vCJD in the U.S usually occur after people ate meat outside the country. In the U.K., there is a stringent policy that restricts all animals older than 30 months from being used for food, and this policy seems to be working effectively.

Milk and its products are not considered high-risk, so you can't get the condition even after drinking milk from an infected cow.

The USDA maintains an on-going surveillance program that checks about 40,000 cattle every year to avoid the possibility of BSE. Also, keep in mind that common cooking methods, such as heating, does affect the prion agent that is suspected to cause BSE. The only thing is that they seem to live in nervous system tissue, meaning they can't live outside the tissue.

Even though the government is doing everything possible to protect consumers from the risks of BSE, it's important to be careful of the meats you eat; whether in the U.S. or abroad. It has also been noted that strains of BSE may also vary with geographical locations. Countries that have already experienced BSE in cattle include Portugal, the U.K., Finland, France, Japan, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, and others. Hopefully, you now understand why bovine spongiform encephalopathy prevention is important.

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Last Reviewed:
July 11, 2017
Last Updated:
October 18, 2017