Mad cow disease. What exactly is it?

Mad cow disease, also known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), is a disease of high interest worldwide due to its economic and health impact on animal production. It was called “mad cow disease” because of the neurological signs it generates in cows, altering their behavior.
In this article I will explain everything about this disease: the causes, how it is transmitted and what measures can be taken to prevent it.

Cow lost control

What is the cause of this disease?

The disease, so far known, is caused by a particle called prion. This prion consists of an abnormal protein that is transmitted between animals, which has “infectious” behavior. The prion is an etiology of disease that is difficult to classify and identify.

Histopathology of bovine brain tissue with lesions characteristic of BSE

What do we observe in animals?

The development of the disease has an important component: it has long incubation periods. It can take between 4-5 years after infection to observe the appearance of clinical signs. This imposes a difficult diagnostic challenge as producers do not easily know if they may have the disease in their farms. Once the signs appear, the course of mad cow isease ranges from two to six months, until the death of the animal.

Mad cow disease generates nervous signs in cattle and is fatal

The signs that may appear are: aggressive or nervous behavior; excessive alteration of the senses (hearing, vision, touch); abnormal body positions and incoordination when moving; weight loss, and depression. For this reason, they must know how to differentiate BSE from other diseases of a similar course, such as rabies, electrolyte disturbances, tetanus, botulism, among others.

Aggressive behavior in cows

How is it transmitted?

The transmission of the prions that cause mad cow disease occurs when healthy cattle are fed with products of animal origin, either bovine or ovine, which are contaminated with the prion. For example, transmission can occur when cattle are fed with meat or bone meal.

How to prevent mad cow disease?

One of the major challenges in preventing the disease is that prions resist high temperatures. So that, apply heat methods when preparing meat or bone meal is not an effective method against the disease.
Therefore, the key points in its prevention have focused on the following:
1. Eliminate Specific Risk Material (SRM) such as brain or spinal tissue during the processing of bovine carcasses destined for consumption.
2. Prohibit the use of Specific Risk Materials (Brain, spinal cord) as a raw material in the preparation of feed for animal consumption.
3. Establish robust surveillance methods in the event of possible cases or outbreaks of the disease, making constant follow up and monitoring nervous-type pictures.
4. Implement a rapid and transparent notification system to take timely action.
5. Conduct screaming studies on cattle during slaughter (post-mortem analysis of a large number of samples)
6. Monitor and regulate the importation of live ruminants or products of bovine origin.
In the video below, we can see Dangerous cow qurbani 2018(1)
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Video resource: Shakeel tv57

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