mad cow disease

Popular Terms
Progressive and fatal disease that attacks the cattle nervous system and causes aggression, lack of coordination, and collapse. It is characterized by the appearance of spongy changes in the brain tissue. Although it occurs only in cattle, it can be transmitted to humans as 'variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease,' (vCJD) a neurological disorder that invariably causes dementia and death after years of incubation period. BSE was first identified in UK in 1986 but its causes are still not fully understood. An extremely minute (one-hundreth the size of a virus) mutant protein called a prion (proteinaceous infectious particle), strongly linked to several fatal degenerative brain diseases in animals and humans, is the prime suspect.
The scientific name of mad cow disease is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). See also virus.

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