Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)
First detected: First identified in cattle in 1985. In 1996 scientists link it to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans
Transmission method: Consumption of infected meat
Region: United Kingdom. Occasionally appears in other countries
Number of people and animals affected: 178 people in the UK have died of this disease in the last couple of decades. Millions of cattle were culled
What turned into one of the UK’s biggest public health crises of the century started when BSE, a neurological disorder caused by an unusual transmissible agent called a prion, began appearing in cattle in the 1970s. The main cause was identified as animal feed including meat and bone meal (MBM) from rendered, and in some cases infected, cows. More than 100,000 cattle were confirmed infected. The practice of using MBM was banned in 1988, but as the disease progressed, scientists began to link it to a rare illness called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). The BSE-linked version was named variant CJD: it could manifest many years after eating the infected meat, led to a number of painful symptoms, and was in a number of cases fatal.
Butchers stand in front of a pile of dead cows at the facility for the destruction of animal corpses in Oberding near Munich, Friday, March 21,1997. Bavaria began slaughtering imported cows to prevent an outbreak of mad cow disease. The brains of the cattle were to be examined for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) Credit: AP