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Just how risky is eating beef? If you've heard of Mad Cow disease and seen staggering cows you may be wondering.

The reason we worry is if humans eat tainted beef - we could die from a condition called variant Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease or variant CJD.

When you do a search of mad cow disease on the internet you'll find extreme views. Some assure the beef supply is safe while others warn you may already be sick.

The truth is the odds of getting the disease are low but not impossible.

Mad Cow or BSE which stands for bovine spongiform encephalopathy was first recognized in the United Kingdom in the mid 1980's.

Europe had a wide practice of feeding cattle - meat and bone meal produced from other cows - of which some were infected. When 180 people -mostly in the UK - died from variant CJD, this practice was banned in both Europe and the US.

In the 1980s, scientists postulated the infectious agent was not a bacterium or a virus but a single protein called PrP. They named this class of infectious proteins "prions." Once abnormal prion proteins enter the brain, they can lie dormant for several years.

At some point an abnormal prion touches a normal prion and converts it into the abnormal form. This continues until neurons die off and spongy holes are left in the brain.

Since cooking and disinfectants have no effect on prions it's imperative agencies like the USDA and the FDA that look after food safety be vigilant and inspect sources of beef.

In our next episode we'll address the challenge of diagnosing mad cow disease and how a new test will change that.

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For more information…

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) Mad Cow Disease
This Food and Drug Administration site provides links to background, safety and vaccine information. There are numerous links to reliable information sources.
For more information…

The CDC site is well documented and has up to date information about incidence of BSE in Canada and the United States with links to control measures and human disease. It also has links to breaking news…
For more information…

vCJD (Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease)
The characteristics and incidence of this human prion disease is well covered. It presents information about the relationship of this disease to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and its clinical and pathological characteristics. Current news stories and travel advice are also presented.
For more information…


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