BSE – Mad Cow Disease

Many of you will have seen the news of the farm in Aberdeenshire having a case of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), known more commonly as Mad Cow Disease. First thing to say is this is an extremely rare disease since enhanced control measures were put in place in the 1990s, so don’t panic! The last case seen in the UK was 2015.

What is BSE? BSE belongs to a extremely unusual family of diseases spread by infectious proteins (prions). It is spread by cattle consuming feed contaminated with infected animal protein (banned in the 1990s), from mother to daughter, or very rarely spontaneous appearance. It cannot spread from cow to cow.

There is an ongoing investigation as to why this case occurred. It is not believed to have come from contaminated feed and is likely to be result of the outbreak from the 1990s.

Cattle affected by BSE experience gradual changes in the nervous system. Affected animals may display odd behaviour, such as nervousness or aggression, incoordination and difficulty in rising.

It takes 2-8 years once infected for the disease to show itself, so is only seen in adult cattle. Following the onset of signs, the animal’s condition deteriorates. This process usually takes between 2 weeks and 6 months.

Any farmer with concerns should immediately seek veterinary advice. However, do remain calm as it is extremely unlikely to be BSE.