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Authors

  1. Acheson, David W. K. MD, FRCP

Abstract

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy is just one of a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Only recently has it become recognized that transmissible spongiform encephalopathies are likely due to proteins known as prions. Although it has been recognized that transmissible spongiform encephalopathies may readily spread within species, the recent observations that bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle may have originated from another transmissible spongiform encephalopathy in sheep, known as scrapie, is cause for concern. Further, bovine spongiform encephalopathy has now been strongly linked with a universally fatal human neurologic disease known as new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Currently the only approach to preventing bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and subsequent new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, from ingestion of bovine spongiform encephalopathy-infected material is to avoid consumption of contaminated food. Little can be done to treat food that will destroy prions and leave a palatable product. At this stage we are continuing to learn about transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and their implications on human health. This is an ever-changing situation and has an unpredictable element in terms of the extent of the current outbreaks in England and other parts of Europe.