Mad cow disease shows up in Alberta

B. McPherson
Mad cow disease can cause this CJv in humans
An animal destined for the beef market was found in Alberta to carry mad cow disease. This is the first case of mad cow since an isolated case in 2011. The public has been assured that the sick animal never made it to the slaughter house. During the initial outbreak of mad cow in 2003 in Canada the beef industry in Canada took a huge economic hit. This is not expected to be the case with this incident.

While it is early days in this investigation, there is speculation that cattle feed pre-dating tighter restrictions was fed to the animal in its first year. In 1997 the Canadian government mandated that feed formulas be changed to exclude the processed remains of ruminant animals. Protein is a valuable commodity in the agricultural industry and it was routine to feed cattle processed “waste” from slaughtered carcasses of cattle and sheep.

Mad cow disease is known by other names: bovine spongiform encephalitis, BSE, transmissible spongiform encephalitis and TSE. It is the transmissible part that is what makes it so dangerous. As the disease progresses in the cow or the person who develops it, the brain develops holes and begins to resemble a sponge-like appearance. There is no treatment to avoid disability and death.

BSE first shows up in the UK in the 1980’s. The cause of the disease was unknown at the time but eventually it was shown to be prions or misshapen proteins that could cross the species barrier. Its emergence was coincidental with a change in feed processing that eliminated the dangerous chemical carbon tetrachloride(CCl4) from the process. CCl4 will denature the rogue proteins where heating and other treatments will not.

Spongiform diseases caused by prions show up in several species around the world. Humans have exhibited a disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease(CJD) a slowly developing wasting disease. A rapidly developing variant,  vCJD, is blamed on consuming beef that has been infected with the aberrant prion.

Some other animals exhibiting prion diseases
·         Domestic sheep and goats
·         Deer and elk
·         Mink
·         Felines
·         Various ruminants

Edmonton Journal                          


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