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In the UK, there are hundreds of bovine diseases (diseases
in cattle), many of which are zoonotic meaning that they can be passed on to
humans. Therefore, a large proportion of these can have serious effects on both
cows and humans. In this essay, I will discuss a few of the more commonly known
diseases such as Tuberculosis, “mad cow disease”, leptospirosis, and
brucellosis which can all be contracted by humans. In addition, I will talk
about “foot and mouth disease” which has been a major problem in the UK in the
past.

 

“Mad cow disease”, which is referred to in the medical world
as Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is a fatal
neurodegenerative disease that affects the central nervous system in cows
although the disease can mutate, into a strain known as Variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), and spread into humans. Humans most frequently
contract the disease through consuming infected meat and it causes a spongiform
degeneration of the brain and spinal cord.  The disease is caused
by a misfolded protein, known as prion. The problem is that prions are
extremely stable and they are not destroyed during freezing or during cooking,
as they only denature at extremely high temperatures, so any infected meat that
an individual may consume may give them the disease. Prions are not living so
they cannot be killed by normal disinfectants and the body does not produce a
normal immune response. According to scientists BSE can arise in animals that
carry a specific allele which can cause normal protein molecules to contort
themselves from a helical arrangement into beta pleated sheets, which is the disease-causing
shape for the particular protein. As the number of these deformed proteins
increase, the degeneration process increases exponentially, eventually leading
to microscopic holes in the brain known as plaque fibres. It is these holes
that lead to the degeneration of the physical and mental abilities of the
infected individual. The transmission can occur when animals come into contact
with infected tissue as BSE is not contagious and therefore cannot be
transmitted from animal to animal, only through consumption of infected tissue
in food. In the brain of a cow these proteins cause prion proteins to deform
into their infectious state. It is thought that BSE first arose in British
herds due to cows being fed the processed animal remains of
sheep infected with scrapie, a closely related brain-wasting disease. Symptoms are not seen immediately due to the extremely long
incubation period of the disease but the WHO (world health
organisation) says that infected individuals usually experience “depression,
apathy or anxiety”. They also report victims have difficulty walking and
controlling their limbs as the disease progresses. By the time of death victims
are “completely immobile and mute.” In cattle, the infected animals will
generally have been seen to become increasingly aggressive, as their nervous
system deteriorates and they lose control of their movement. The Milk
production of the cows may also drop, with some become increasingly skinny and
lethargic. The first confirmed case in Britain
was in 1986 and the last major outbreak in the UK was in1992.during the last
outbreak it is estimated that 180 000 cows were affected and killed and
altogether 4.4 million cows were killed. 156 people died in the 1990s as
a result of contracting the variant of BSE. This number has risen to 177 at the
present day. The outbreak did not just affect animals and it had a dramatic
effect on the sale of beef which fell by 40% with household consumption down by
25%. Financially it is estimated that the outbreak cost the economy around £800
million.

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