The Story of Mad Cows Disease – Why Medical Research Matters

February 25, 2022 2:48 pm


Over the last couple of years, one new illness has completely changed life for most people on earth. As Covid-19 spread quickly around the world in January of 2020 it didn’t take long for all countries to start experiencing this unseen menace.

The scientific community were quick to respond, and new treatments and studies, like these bridging studies by Richmond Pharmacology were all showing us of the importance of medical research for many illnesses.

Many of us have also become aware of the need for better treatment of animals due to this. The origins of many viruses and diseases have been a crossover from animals to humans, which could have been evaded with better animal husbandry and treatment of the animals in our care.

An illness which is a great example of this point, but sadly seems to have been largely forgotten, started in the UK in the mid-1980s. It could have been easily avoided, but sadly caused a lot of pain and suffering –v-CJD.

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This began many years previously, when people realised that by using carcasses of animals that were not used for meat, they could introduce this to cattle feed to reduce costs and waste. Unfortunately, some of those deceased animals were sheep that were infected with scrapie – an illness that had long been known of, but only affected sheep. It is caused by a type of protein called a prion which infects and takes over the brain, causing the sheep to act strangely and lose the ability to walk.

In the mid- 1980s, many farmers reported these sorts of symptoms in cows. This baffled vets to start with and was becoming increasingly widespread. It got the name mad cow disease. After some research being done on the infected animals, it was discovered that this was a very similar disease to scrapie – of course the concern was, if it had jumped from sheep to cows, could it then jump the food chain more and infect other animals and humans.

This was something that was played down for years, with many people eager to quash the worries that this was something that could happen. However, by the mid 90s, the evidence that indeed the worst could happen was stacking up and was impossible to ignore. There had been many cases of other animals being infected with the disease, including several pet cats that had been mysteriously struck down and killed by it.

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Cases of a new disease in humans were starting to emerge – sadly most of these cases were in younger people, and it became apparent that this illness had indeed jumped the species – the link was impossible to ignore, and v-CJD as it is now known was confirmed to be the human form of the disease.

Although this is something that we hear little of now, many scientists believe that more cases are set to appear in humans. Because of the long incubation time, it has been estimated that 1 in 2000 people in the UK may be carriers of this deadly illness.