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All About Mad Cow Disease

When people say that they are mad, they usually mean they are angry. Mad also can be another word for crazy. But cows that have mad cow disease are not angry or crazy. They are very sick.

What Is Mad Cow Disease?

Mad cow disease, which also is called bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, causes damage to the cow’s brain. Signs that the cow is sick include trouble walking. Eventually the sick cow’s legs can’t hold it up and it stumbles and falls. Sick animals also may act very nervous or violent.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure how cows get this disease, but it probably happens when cows eat feed made from cows infected with mad cow disease.

Can People Get Mad Cow Disease?

As of November 2005, 184 people worldwide are known to have become sick with the human kind of mad cow disease. It’s called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). It is believed that those people got vCJD from eating beef products that came from cows infected with mad cow disease.

Both vCJD and mad cow disease are not contagious. This means that you (or a cow) can’t catch it from someone else the way you can catch a cold. Also, research seems to show that you can’t get mad cow disease from milk, even if the milk comes from a sick cow.

In the United States, FDA and the Department of Agriculture have done many things to protect people and cows from this disease. One of the main things is not allowing most parts from cows and certain other animals to be used as part of the food that is fed to other cows. This will help protect healthy cows from getting infections from other cows that might be sick already. Also, some cow parts, such as the brain and spinal cord from cows over 30 months of age, cannot be sold to people for food or used in make-up, lotions, or other cosmetics.

Are My Pets in Danger?

Cats are the only pets that are known to have a version of mad cow disease. It’s called feline spongiform encephalopathy. The same things that are being done to protect people and cows are also protecting cats from getting the disease.

What Should I Do?

Talk to your parents or other adults in your life about what mad cow disease means for your family. If they need more information, tell them about FDA’s Web site at www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/bse.html.

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