Experts are still trying hard to come up with an effective mad cow disease treatment for humans. This bovine disease often has fatal consequences when it affects both cattle and humans. Let us take a look at mad cow disease symptoms and treatments available by going through the article below.
Mad cow disease, the word that sends shivers down the spine of people who consume red meat or beef. The medical term for mad cow disease is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). This is a neurodegenerative disease that causes the brain and spinal cord to degenerate into a spongy mass. This is a bovine disease that can be transmitted to humans.
This occurs after one consumes food made from the brain, spinal cord or digestive tract of the infected cattle. Thus, it is bound to make most people who consume beef concerned about mad cow disease. What makes this condition so scary, is that till date there is no specific and effective mad cow disease treatment for humans.
What Causes Mad Cow Disease?
In most cases, a disease is caused by either bacteria, virus, fungus or parasite. However, this disease is a prion disease that occurs due to presence of a prion protein. Prion proteins were first discovered in sheep and caused a condition called scrapie. It generally affects cattle or grass-eating animals like cows, deer, elk and in some cases cats.
In humans, a new variant of the disease was discovered and called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD or nvCJD). When the disease manifests itself in cattle, it causes their brains to develop a ‘sponge-like’ appearance. The animals are unable to stand and keep stumbling down. Soon, the brain deteriorates affecting the entire body. Finally, the animal dies.
Humans who consume tissues of an infected cattle, can develop vCJD. The brain begins to change in structure. This leads to symptoms such as psychiatric changes, neurological abnormalities, ataxia, dementia, myoclonus, etc. After a few months of the onset of the disease, the patient dies.
Symptoms of Mad Cow Disease
The symptoms of mad cow disease in humans include dementia, loss of memory, personality changed and hallucinations. The patient suffers from speech impairment, myocolus, loss of balance and ataxia. In some cases, there are changes in gait, rigid posture and seizures.
The incubation period of the prion protein is very long and thus, the symptoms may take time to develop. Once the symptoms appear, the disease turns fatal within a few months or weeks. This occurs due to progressive death of the nerve cells within the brain. The abnormal prion protein build up forms amyloids that causes holes to appear in areas where nerve cell death occurs.
Treatment and Preventive Measures
There is no treatment and the condition turns fatal within 6 months of onset. Apart from this, there is no way one can destroy the abnormal prion proteins. These prion proteins are resistant to heat, UV light, radiation, disinfectants, etc. Thus, cooking meat at high temperatures also does not help prevent the spread of this abnormal protein from an infected animal to humans. In order to prevent the spread of disease, one should consume poultry, lamb and fish, instead of beef. One should also avoid blood transfusions overseas, as the abnormal prions can be transferred through blood.
The doctor may ask a patient to avoid taking any medications or pills that affects their memory or causes confusion. Symptoms such as seizures, myoclonus can be controlled using medications. However, death is inevitable and it may occur from 6 months to 60 months after the onset of the disease.
The diseased animals too suffer from behavioral changes like aggressive nature, loss of weight even if the animal has a healthy appetite, inability to stand up, etc. Humans on the other hand show amnesia, extreme aggressiveness, lack of understanding power, loss of coordination, etc. Doctors, researchers, scientists, etc. are all working towards finding an effective mad cow disease treatment. However, treatment is difficult due to the resistance of the prions to various factors like heat, radiation, etc. Till then, one can only prevent the disease from affecting cattle as well humans by following the strict guidelines laid down by FDA.