Mad Cow Disease hits US again; what you need to know

Uh oh, Mad cow disease is back! It hit the U.S. again after a dairy cow in California was discovered to have the ailment earlier this week. Although government officials say that this particular cow had not been slaughtered for food, which makes me feel a little better, I'm still worried about this new case of the disease we were all freaking out about back in 2006. But what exactly is mad cow disease and why are we all so worried? This is what you need to know:

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Read more ¿Qué más? Red meat will kill you…eventually.

What exactly is it?
It's a neurological disorder in cattle. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, it leads to "degeneration in the brain and spinal cord, and eventually death." It's believed to be caused by an abnormal protein that lodges in the brain and spinal tissue, causing the animals to become disoriented, stumble and eventually die.

Can we get it?
Yes, humans can get it and there's no treatment. The people version of mad cow disease is called variant Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease and studies have shown a link between humans and cows. The general thought is that people can get it by eating processed food containing the infected beef. Symptoms in people include blurred vision, disorientation, hallucinations, lack of coordination and speech impairment. It's progressive and can be fatal within months.

Should we be afraid to eat red meat?
The USDA has strict monitoring for safety. So, it's mostly safe to eat red meat. The United States Department of Agriculture says that it "remains confident in the health of the national herd and the safety of beef and dairy products." They are assuring the public that the problem is being investigated and they are keeping a vigilant eye out.  

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It seems that generally it's still Ok to eat red meat. At least, it's unlikely that more cows are contaminated with the disease at this moment. The USDA is doing what they can to keep a close watch on the problem, though one consumer group is still very concerned. Since the government tests only 40,000 cows for the disease we "really don't know if this is an isolated unusual event, or whether there are more cases in U.S. beef," according to Michael Hansen, a scientist at Consumers Union. Either way, I think we have to be a little bit more careful and maybe cut down on eating red meat a bit, both for health and safety.

Are you afraid of mad cow disease spreading in the U.S. after this latest discovery?

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