RESOURCES: Mad Cow Roundup

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Science  16 Jan 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5656, pp. 291
DOI: 10.1126/science.303.5656.291b

Some diners may be shunning steaks, but the discovery last month of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a U.S. cow has whetted many people's appetites for information about the disease. This chapter from an online microbiology text introduces the set of lethal, brain-wrecking illnesses that includes BSE, fatal familial insomnia, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), one form of which spreads through meat from BSE-infected cattle (above). The primer also describes prions, rogue proteins hypothesized to trigger these illnesses by deforming a normal brain protein.

Find out more about BSE and its human equivalent, variant CJD, at this site from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can read the case history of the only patient diagnosed with vCJD in the United States, a 22-year-old Florida resident who grew up in Britain and likely ate meat from an infected animal. For additional facts on the symptoms and neurological toll of vCJD, check out the site from the CJD Surveillance Unit, which tallies the number of cases in the United Kingdom. As of December 2003, doctors had identified 143 vCJD patients, 137 of whom had died.

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