Mad Cow Disease


  • Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly referred to as “mad cow disease,” is a fatal neurodegenerative disease.
  • BSE affects only cattle.


  • Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is thought to be the human manifestation of BSE.
  • vCJD is a degenerative neurological disorder (brain disease).
  • vCJD is ultimately fatal.
  • It is very rare, affecting only one in one million.

Transmission and Symptoms

  • vCJD is thought (but not proven) to be transmitted through the consumption of infected animal tissue, specifically beef.
  • vCJD is a neurodegenerative disease, usually presenting itself similarly to dementia.
  • Other symptoms
    • Prominent psychiatric/behavioral symptoms
    • Delayed neurologic signs
    • Painful sensations such as burning or pins and needles from neurological malfunctions


  • Currently, there is no treatment for vCJD.
  • It is an ultimately fatal disease with average illness duration of 14 months.


  • Caution should be exercised by those in Europe and other areas with indigenous cases of BSE.
  • You may consider avoiding beef or beef products that are not solid tissue (sausage, ground beef, and brains).
  • Be aware of beef recalls when they occur.
  • Remember that the possibility for infected beef is very small.

Where to Find Additional Information


Be Ready Navy—Be informed before, during, and after an incident; make a written family emergency plan; and build an emergency supply kit good for at least three days.

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