Mad cow disease in humans, known scientifically as a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, is a rare neurodegenerative disease caused by prions, which are abnormal proteins, which settle in the brain and lead to the gradual development of definitive lesions, causing common symptoms to dementia that include difficulty thinking or speaking, for example.
Mad cow disease has this name due to the fact that it is a disease most frequently observed in cattle in the past and, therefore, the contact or consumption of meat from bovines contaminated by prions can lead to the development of the disease in humans.
Symptoms of mad cow disease in people appear as the destruction of nerve cells by prions occurs, and there may be:
- Memory loss;
- Difficulty speaking or thinking;
- Loss of ability to make coordinated movements;
- Difficulty walking;
- Constant tremors;
- Blurred vision;
Symptoms of mad cow disease are progressive and are usually noticed about 6 to 12 years after contamination, and are often mistaken for dementia.
How the transmission happens
Although the most frequent form of contagion is through ingestion of contaminated meat, there are other causes that may be at the origin of the problem, such as:
- Corneal or contaminated skin transplantation;
- Use of contaminated instruments in surgical procedures;
- Inadequate implantation of brain electrodes;
- Injections of contaminated growth hormones.
However, these situations are extremely rare because modern techniques greatly reduce the risk of using contaminated fabrics or materials, not only due to mad cow disease, but also to other serious diseases such as AIDS or tetanus, for example.
There are also records of people who became infected with this disease after receiving a blood transfusion in the 1980s and it is because of this that all people who have ever received blood at some time in their lives cannot donate blood, because they may have been infected, even though they never manifested symptoms.
How the diagnosis is made
There are no specific tests that can identify mad cow disease and the diagnosis is made based on the symptoms presented, especially when there are more suspected cases in the same region.
In addition, to exclude other diseases, the doctor may indicate the performance of an electroencephalogram and analysis of cerebrospinal fluid, or prion testing and genetic tests. However, in most cases, the disease is only confirmed after a brain biopsy is performed.
The development of the disease is rapid, since since the symptoms appear, the person dies between a period of 6 months to a year, since from the moment of infection the neuronal function begins to be impaired, which leads to progressive loss of the person’s capacities and greater need to be bedridden and dependent to eat and perform hygiene care.
Although these complications cannot be avoided, as there is no treatment, it is recommended that the patient be accompanied by a psychiatrist, as there are remedies that can help to delay the evolution of the disease.