Scientists Moving
Closer To Mad Cow
Test - USDA
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. scientists are inching closer to developing a test to diagnose mad cow and other diseases that can be deadly for animals and potentially infect humans, the U.S. Agriculture Department said Thursday.
The scientists have developed a method to detect the presence of abnormal proteins, called prions, in the blood of animals and humans, the department said.
Prions are naturally occurring brain proteins that experts say mutate into dangerous forms, resulting in a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.
The most well-known TSE is mad cow disease, scientifically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Mad cow caused widespread anxiety in the United Kingdom and around the world after scientists discovered a link between the disease and the human brain-wasting disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD).
Some 40 people have died from nvCJD so far, but scientists say it is still too early to predict the final toll. U.K. producers have killed millions of cattle since a worldwide export ban was imposed in March 1996 after the discovery.
There are no documented cases of mad cow in the United States.
But another TSE disease, scrapie, has been discovered in as many as 1,000 U.S. sheep and goat flocks. Scrapie is a degenerative and eventually fatal disease that targets the central nervous systems of the animals.
There is no cure for the disease, and producers who discover a sheep or goat with scrapie often must destroy many animals in the flock to stop the spread of the disease, since there is no way to test live animals for scrapie.