The news that a cow in Scotland has been diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as BSE or “mad cow disease”, has reawakened the terrible memories of the 1980s and 90s epidemic .
That outbreak saw 180,000 cattle infected and millions slaughtered, but also introduced the public to the terrifying human cousin of BSE, known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).
Both conditions are caused by an abnormal group of infectious proteins called prions. BSE is believed to have been passed to cows from infected meat and bone meal in feed, a practice that is now banned. In rare cases, vCJD can take hold in humans who eat beef from infected cattle.
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