Mad Cow Disease Detected In Alabama: Is There Reason To Be Alarmed?


A cow in Alabama was found positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed on Tuesday, July 18 that the 11-year-old animal had atypical L-type of BSE.

The animal died after it was delivered to a livestock market in Alabama. Lab results, which were later confirmed by the USDA laboratory in Ames, Iowa, showed the animal had atypical BSE

Classical BSE And Atypical BSE

Classical BSE has been associated to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, a degenerative brain disorder that leads to dementia and eventually death.

Classical BSE may occur when cows are fed with products that contain spinal and brain tissues from other bovine animals. As a precaution, the United States banned the use of these feeds in cattle in 1997.

Unlike classical BSE, atypical cases of BSE are not transmitted through infected feed. Atypical BSE is also believed to arise spontaneously in cattle herds affecting older animals that are at least 8 years old. Atypical BSE is also rare. It is considered as a sporadic disease, which means it occurs singly or in scattered instances.

"Unlike typical BSE, cases of atypical BSE, according to [UK Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee] (SEAC), may have risen spontaneously (although transmission through feed or the environment cannot be ruled out). Recently reported French surveillance data support this theory that unlike typical BSE, atypical BSE appears to represent sporadic disease," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

New BSE Case Does Not Pose Human Threat

The USDA assured that the animal did not pose risk to food supply or the human health. The cow never entered slaughter channels. Authorities said they are already working to address the issue.

"The Commissioner of Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, John McMillan, confirmed that the department is working with USDA officials to address a positive test for atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in an eleven-year old Alabama beef cow, " the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries said in a statement.

Fifth Case Of Mad Cow Disease In The United States

The animal is the fifth case of BSE detected in the United States. Of these five cases, four were atypical.

The only classical BSE was of the 2003 case of an animal found at a Washington farm that was brought from Canada and born prior to the ban on use of cattle feed that contain brain or spinal tissue. 

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