Understanding Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy - BSE

Referred to as BSE for short, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy is a neurological disorder that occurs in cattle. BSE is caused by an infection from an agent called prion. Unfortunately, modern scientific understanding of prion is incomplete so little is known about this transmissible agent.

A popular theory suggests that the agent is derived from a prion protein and has modifications from the normal cell surface component, making it a pathogenic form. In such a form, the prion protein is especially resistant to enzyme degradation and made less soluble than the normal cell surface.

There is evidence of BSE occurring in cows during the 1970s, with two confirmed cases occurring in 1986. Studies suggest that BSE may have its beginnings from the practice of feeding sheep meat and bone meal containing scrapie to cows. The particularly bad outbreak of BSE in the United Kingdom is generally linked to the barbaric practice of feeding cow meat and bone meal to young cows and calves.

In January of 1993, the epidemic of BSE reached a record number of nearly a thousand new cases each week. The epidemic carried on until Spring of 2005. By then, the number of BSE cases in the United Kingdom had reached nearly 200,000 cases in nearly 40,000 herds of cattle.

Since the epidemic in the UK, scientific studies strongly suggest a link between the BSE outbreak in cows and variant CJD in human beings. The human forms of the disease have an incubation period similar to the time period between the exposure of human population to BSE infected products in 1984 and the outbreak of variant CJD in humans in 1994.

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