Mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE) is a
degenerative, usually fatal disease that affects the central nervous system of
cattle, sheep, and goats. While humans cannot get mad cow disease, in rare
cases they may get a human form called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD)
if they eat nerve tissue (the brain and spinal cord) of cattle infected with
mad cow disease.
No one is sure what causes mad cow disease. Experts believe that the
disease may be caused by infectious proteins called prions. In affected
cows, these abnormal proteins are found in the brain, spinal cord, and small intestine.
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.