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What Are the Treatments for Mad Cow Disease in Humans?

By Christina Edwards
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Known scientifically as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, mad cow disease in humans is an incurable degenerative neurological disease caused by consumption of contaminated food. Treatment of mad cow disease in humans focuses on keeping the patient comfortable in the later stages. Unfortunately, this disease is usually not diagnosed correctly until it is in the later stages, or after death.

Mad cow disease in humans is often thought of as a brain disorder. This disorder is caused by infectious abnormal proteins, called prions, that eat away at the tissues of the brain. This disease can stay dormant in humans for years. Early symptoms can include memory loss, anxiety, and nervous disorders.

There is no cure for mad cow disease. This means that no medication can be administered, and no surgery can be performed to stop or get rid of this disease. Scientists are still researching a cure, however, and there may be a treatment option for humans with mad cow disease.

Treatment for mad cow disease in humans mainly deals with keeping a patient comfortable until death, which can happen a few months to a year after symptoms start. Strong pain killers may be used to help control the pain, for instance. Additionally, a patient who is in a coma will typically have a feeding tube and an intravenous (IV) drip.

This disease is often misdiagnosed, so doctors may not know what ails a patient until the later stages of mad cow disease in humans. Magnetic resonance scans and spinal fluid tests are often used to help doctors diagnose patients who may have mad cow disease. The only completely accurate diagnosis method, however, is a brain biopsy, which is usually performed after death.

As mad cow disease in humans progresses, it will typically bore small holes throughout the brain. The prions that cause this are resistant to several treatment methods. For instance, they can not be stopped with radiation or heat. In fact, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), cooking meat infected with these agents cannot even kill the prions.

To prevent this disease, a person can avoid certain types of meat that may contain nervous tissue contaminated with the disease. Ground beef, sausage, and hot dogs, for instance, are more likely to contain this contaminated tissue. Meat with bone in it may also contain contaminated tissue. Additionally, if person is in a country where there have been reported cases of mad cow disease in humans, he should avoid any products that may contain beef altogether.

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Discussion Comments

By mobilian33 — On Jun 13, 2014

The good news about mad cow in humans is that scientist don't believe that one person can catch it from another person. However, I read that there have been some cases that were possibly caused by blood transfusions.

By Feryll — On Jun 12, 2014

@Laotionne - Actually mad cow disease is the common name for the disease. The initials for the medical term are BSE, and the B stands for bovine. The reason it is called mad cow is because cows who have the disease have trouble doing normal things, like walking. They stumble and fall and may walk in circles. This is because of the way the disease affects their brains and nervous systems.

Anyway, they look strange and behave strangely, so I guess at some point someone saw a cow with the disease and said that cow is mad and the term stuck. Variations of the disease are found in other animals like goats, sheep and humans as this article explains. However, the disease has a different name when it is in other animals, but it is still called mad cow sometimes even though only cows have the actual BSE.

This article gives the scientific name for the human variation of the disease in the first paragraph.

By Laotionne — On Jun 11, 2014

Why is mad cow disease called mad cow disease and not some other name? This name makes the disease sound like only cows would be affected by it.

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