Mad Cow disease in humans: transmission and symptoms

Mad cow disease in humans, known scientifically as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, can develop in three different ways: the sporadic form, which is the most common and of unknown cause, the hereditary, which occurs due to the mutation of a gene, and acquired, which may result from contact or ingestion of contaminated beef or transplanted contaminated tissues.

This disease has no cure because it is caused by prions, which are abnormal proteins, which settle in the brain and lead to the gradual development of definitive lesions, causing symptoms common to dementia that include difficulty in thinking or speaking, for example.

Although the form of contagion can occur through ingestion of contaminated meat, there are other causes that may be at the origin of the problem, such as:

  • Corneal or contaminated skin transplantation;
  • Use of contaminated instruments in surgical procedures;
  • Inadequate implantation of brain electrodes;
  • Injections of contaminated growth hormones.

However, these situations are extremely rare because modern techniques greatly reduce the risk of using contaminated fabrics or materials, not only due to mad cow disease, but also to other serious diseases such as AIDS or tetanus, for example.

There are also records of people who became infected with this disease after receiving a blood transfusion in the 1980s and that is why all people who have ever received blood at some time in their lives cannot donate blood, because they may have been contaminated, even though they never manifested symptoms.

Main symptoms and how to identify

One of the first symptoms that manifest with this disease is memory loss. In addition, it is also common for:

  • Difficulty speaking;
  • Loss of ability to think;
  • Loss of ability to make coordinated movements;
  • Difficulty walking;
  • Constant tremors;
  • Blurred vision;
  • Insomnia;
  • Personality changes.

These symptoms usually appear 6 to 12 years after contamination and are very often mistaken for dementia. There are no specific tests that can identify mad cow disease and the diagnosis is made based on the symptoms presented, especially when there are more suspected cases in the same region.

In addition, to exclude other diseases, the doctor may indicate the performance of an electroencephalogram and analysis of cerebrospinal fluid. The only way to confirm the diagnosis is through a biopsy or autopsy to the brain, however, in the case of biopsy, this is a procedure that may pose a danger to the person, due to the region from which it is necessary to remove the sample, and may even there is a risk of obtaining a false negative.

Possible complications

The development of the disease is rapid, since since the symptoms appear, the person dies between a period of 6 months to a year. With the development of the disease, the symptoms worsen, leading to a progressive loss of capacities and there is a need for the person to be bedridden and dependent to eat and perform hygiene care.

Although these complications cannot be avoided, as there is no treatment, it is recommended that the patient be accompanied by a psychiatrist, as there are remedies that can help to delay the evolution of the disease.