A brain disorder in adult cattle that may be spread to humans through diseased meat.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy and fatal neurodegenerative disease in cattle that may be passed to humans who have eaten infected flesh. BSE causes a spongiform degeneration of the brain and spinal cord. BSE has a long incubation period, of 2.5 to 5 years, usually affecting adult cattle at a peak age onset of four to five years. As of January 2004, more than 180,000 cases of BSE were confirmed in Great Britain in more than 35,000 herds of cattle. The epidemic peaked in January 1993 at almost 1,000 new cases per week.

BSE is caused by a misfolded protein—a prion. Humans may acquire the disorder by eating diseased meat products. When it comes from cattle, the disorder is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). CJD ultimately leads to dementia and death. The condition is rare. The disease is marked by rapid mental deterioration, usually within a few months. Most people eventually lapse into a coma. Treatment focuses on keeping the person as comfortable as possible.

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