How Mad Cow Disease Affects Humans

Posted by on April 25, 2012
Last Updated: July 16, 2017

Another case of Mad Cow Disease was discovered in California this month. This was the first known case in the United States since 2006, and luckily never had a chance to enter the human food chain.

But since Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) has once again found itself thrust into mainstream attention, now seems as good a time as any to cover its effects on humans, and maybe even check in on the advice of everyone’s favorite online time traveler.

You Are What You Eat

Visit this page from Practical Neurology to see a comparison between a healthy human brain and an atrophied human brain suffering from the human equivalent of BSE, known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or vCJD.

Those familiar with the John Titor mythos will recognize this disease as one of the many warnings he gave to our worldline.

“Thinking about where the food came from, how it was shipped and treated absolutely terrifies me. I have tried to tell people about CJD disease and it seems to be “catching on” in Europe.”

And later:

“Yes, and people are still dying and a great deal of them are passing from CJD. As I said, with my very first few posts almost 6 months ago, I want to emphasize how devastating this will be. I believe two people are confirmed dead in Colorado from CDJ from surgical instruments.”

Of course, put into context, John Titor was posting only four years after vCJD was first identified in 1996 in the U.K., the same time as the “huge” outbreak of BSE in Britain.

It was still a relatively prominent issue compared to today, and if John Titor was a hoax, it would have been easy (perhaps clever) to extrapolate that outbreak into the future to add some gravity and realism to his story.

But that doesn’t make it any less worrisome.

Mad Cow Disease And Humans

The human variant of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, vCJD, is passed on via the consumption of infected meat or body parts. That’s why it’s a policy these days to remove the brains and spinal cords of cattle before processing them.

So what happens to a human infected with vCJD?

The symptoms include dementia, memory loss, changes in personality, and loss of motor functions (or involuntary movements). Hallucinations. Speech becomes impaired, potentially followed by seizures, and fatality is almost certain. It’s a smorgasbord of very bad things, indeed, and there is no cure.

The most profound characteristic of vCJD, however, is its potentially lengthy incubation period.

While some people infected with the disease will suffer immediately, many will harbor the disease for years before any symptoms arise. This period can last up to 50 years. The difference lies in which prion protein an individual possesses, and it is this prion that is affected by the disease.

What’s even more frightening? According to The Guardian, “…there could be between 15,000 and 20,000 people in the UK who are incubating the disease” right now. Imagine the worldwide implications.

Despite this, most agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, don’t believe anyone should be worried. The chances of infection, they say, are rare, and even after exposure to the disease, the odds of suffering any ill effects are “just one in 10 billion.”

So, I guess, don’t worry?

There’s still quite a lot we don’t understand about BSE and vCJD, and since cases appear to be few and far between (for now), they tend to slide out of the public consciousness quite easily.

But, honestly, only 1 in 4,000 cows are screened each year.

I do wonder how we can so easily assume no infected meat has reached the market, and how many people are truly harboring the disease.

The ‘Mad Cow’ story here is yet to begin…” – John Titor

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About the Author Post by Rob Schwarz Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. He manages Stranger Dimensions in between changing aquarium filters and reading bad novels about mermaids.
  • Gyan

    I believe in John Titor