Mad Cow Disease (BSE)

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy is also known as BSE. The disease is most commonly referred to as Mad Cow Disease. BSE is a progressive degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system of cattle. BSE has an incubation period of four to five years. The disease can go undetected for years as there may be no outward signs. BSE is fatal for cattle and death results within weeks to months of its onset. BSE first came to the attention in November 1986 with its appearance in cattle of United Kingdom (UK).

Common Names

BSE is commonly known as Mad Cow Disease. The disease can infect and cause death in humans as well.

Causative Organism

Scientists have not found the exact cause of BSE but it is believed to be caused by abnormal proteins called prions. Other experts say that BSE can be caused by a virus-like organism. New forms of BSE have been affecting cattle around the world.

Common Symptoms

  1. Nervousness or aggression
  2. Change in attitude and behavior
  3. Abnormal posture
  4. Coordination problems
  5. Difficulty in walking or getting up off the ground
  6. Reduced milk production
  7. Acute muscular twitching
  8. Unexplained loss of body weight in spite of a good appetite
  9. Severe moaning and ultimately death

How it Affects Cattle

As mentioned earlier, BSE takes from two to eight years from the time of infection, to appear as a full-blown case. BSE-affected animals resemble those of rabies. But rabies progresses rapidly over a few days while the symptoms of BSE develop over a period of two to six months. Once the clinical symptoms are in place, the animal deteriorates until it either dies or is destroyed to prevent more instances of BSE.

Regional Impacts

World Health Organization (WHO) reports that since 1989, BSE has been reported in native cattle in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland.

Risks & Dangers

The disease is found almost exclusively in cattle over 2 years old. The incubation period for this disease ranges from 2-8 years and is always fatal. The disease is believed to have been transmitted through the feeding of animal by-product feeds, such as meat and bone meal, made from cattle infected with BSE.


There is no treatment for cattle affected with BSE. The disease is fatal.

Vaccines & Prevention

There are no tests for the disease in live animals. Prevention can only be done by culling affected animals. Their remains should be properly disposed of. Cattle should be continuously monitored for BSE symptoms. There are no available vaccines for BSE.

References and Resources