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What is mad cow disease?

Mad cow disease is also called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. It destroys the brains and nervous system of cows, and gets progressively worse over time. The cause of the disease is not well understood, but scientists believe it occurs when a normal protein, called a "prion," changes and becomes harmful to the animal. The human form of this disease is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Scientists believe people may get vCJD after eating beef from cattle who were infected with BSE. This disease may also be spread from person to person through transplants and blood transfusions, or other rare situations where infected blood or tissue enters the skin or body. Other types of CJD, not related to mad cow disease, can also occur in humans. Symptoms of CJD in people include dementia (memory loss, confusion, mood changes) and nerve-related symptoms, such as nerve pain or a burning sensation. There is no cure for this disease, so treatment is usually aimed at keeping people as comfortable as possible as the disease progresses.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.