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Mad Cow Prion
Seems to Have
No Boundaries

By James Donahue
A report from Germany that ostriches in zoos have been hit with BSE type symptoms after eating animal bone meal is a most disturbing development.

If this report is true, it means that all carnivores, including man, are prey to this insidious disease that has no natural foe.

People who have switched from eating beef to eating horsemeat and ostrich are not going to be safe from consuming the deadly radical protein thought to cause the rapid destruction of brain cells.

The German newspaper Die Zeit reported that ostriches in various zoos developed the symptoms of Mad Cow disease. The story said the British Ministry of Agriculture has consequently ordered research into the possible transmission of BSE from cattle to birds.

There also have been known cases in England of zoo bound cats, either lions or tigers, that have fallen victim to BSE-like symptoms in recent months. If zoo animals are dying, what will be the fate of our household pets that consume meat by-products in the pet food we get from the store?

Although it goes by different names, the disease is found in sheep and in the wild animals including deer, elk and a variety of smaller animals. All have access to the same type of cattle feed, given to animals in open feed lots throughout the United States and Britain.

That wild animals are naturally eaten by other carnivores is a certain death sentence for most animals and birds of the world, if no creature is immune from the effects of this prion.

Once it gets in the food chain, the prion can be passed from species to species, destroying everything from the smallest rodent to the mighty cats, from blood sucking bats to the birds that peck away at the remains of road kill.

I am even suspicious of a new thing attacking fish, known as "whirling disease." Infected fish stop eating. They just swim in circles until they die. Whirling disease is in the United States.

We humans are caught up in this deadly drama whether we want to think so or not. Although American cattlemen are insisting that their livestock is free of BSE and safe to eat, the disease is found in various parts of the United States in other animals. The elk and deer in the northwestern states are dying of something they call "wasting disease," which is the equivalent of Mad Cow Disease. Sheep in various state of the east have been found to be suffering from scapies, which also is Mad Cow Disease.

When humans get it, the disease has a much fancier handle: Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease.

The real name of the disease is
bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). They call it that because the prion eats holes in the brain. After the victim goes insane and dies, the brain is filled with holes and looks like a sponge.

So far the only way to determine if a patient or animal has died of BSE is to cut open the head and take a look at the brain. There is no other known lab test that determines whether a person is infected and dying of BSE.

That is because the prion isn't a bacteria and it isn't a virus. It is, instead, a maverick protein that somehow gets in the brain and then causes other natural proteins to break down and then reform as an imitation to the abnormal protein.

It works a little like a cancer, causing cells to go haywire all around it. To date there is no known cure.

Stopping this little killer is not going to be easy. It may not even be possible. The prion is not a living thing so it can't be killed. Cooking meat thoroughly won't touch it. I once heard that the prion will withstand heat up to 2000 degrees or higher.

You can't destroy the prion with bleach or acid.

You can't vaccinate against the prion because it doesn't work like a bacteria or a virus, so an animal can't build up a natural immunity. Once you get it, you are going to die a slow and terrible death.

Some say the disease works slowly enough that humans might carry the prion up to 20 or 30 years before coming down with the symptoms of BSE. It seems to work faster in animals and younger people, however. There have been cases of teenagers dying of BSE in England since the outbreak of Mad Cow Disease there about 15 years ago.

I suspect a lot of infected people are walking around this planet now. We may be facing an epidemic of major proportions within the next few years.

The only way to escape the prion is to avoid ingesting meat or anything made from the parts of animals. But doing this is much more difficult than you might imagine.

Becoming a vegetarian won't necessarily save you. If you still sneak a dish of ice cream once in a while, or crave some milk on your corn flakes, you could be ingesting the prion through the milk.

Halloween candy . . . you know the seasonal candy corns that are always popular that time of the year . . . are made from gelatin that comes from cattle hoofs. That desert you had last week that was made of gelatin also came from cattle hoofs. And so did the gelatin capsule that contains the pain medicine you took before going to bed last night.

The prion could be hiding in things you might never suspect.

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