We all like a good old juicy hamburger supreme, laced with the classic lettuce, tomato, and pickle with some fried taters on the side. We all like a nicely baked meatloaf to complement some succulent hot vegetable. In both these activities that avid carnivore is sure to find satisfaction in the juices and taste of wonderfully crafted beef. Yet for many people beef has become a no-zone thanks to little proteinacious infectious particles called prions that can wreak havoc on a perfectly healthy living organism. For many this no-zone came bout with the major outbreak in Britain that was caused many deaths due to a glitch in feeding and sanitation practices producing beef. Since the recognition of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy in 1986 over 180,000 cattle in the UK have been infected with the BSE agent. In that same context it is estimated that between 1 and 3 million people are likely to have come in contact with the agent. Even while the origins remain unknown, the agent was caused by recycling waste products of cattle.While the majority of deaths occurred in Britain, there were deaths in neighboring countries such as France, Netherlands and Germany.
The resulting (variant human) disease vCJD is one that produces severe neurological decline and causes abnormal behaviour as a result. The prions of this agent once in the system cause normal proteins to fold improperly simply via contact. In the time that epidemiologists were trying to figure out the origins and its proliferation throughout cattle and human populations (vCJD), it was estimated that the agent may have already been present but in such low levels as it was not detected once several years had passed. Disease like this are scary because it was a series of misguided mixing and contamination that caused a very severe and fatal disease that resulted in many deaths and harrowing stigma.
As with all major public-health related concerns there are numerous factors that play in a role in how diseases find a way and cause considerable damage, but one thing is certain, the beef with beef is not just a stigma-related caution, but a real one that requires greater attention and care so that avoidable disasters like this do not make it to the international stage once more.