Mad Cow Disease Tied to Texas Death

Mad cow disease and Texas death linked after patient likely contracted variant CJD abroad

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Deaths tied to mad cow disease are incredibly rare, but they still can and do occur — a fact US health officials and the public are being reminded of this week.

Health officials have reported that a recent death in Texas was tied to mad cow disease.

Health officials have also stressed that the patient, like previous US patients with mad cow disease, likely became ill while abroad.

"Tell your doctor about any unusual symptoms."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the recently deceased patient has been diagnosed with Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (variant CJD) through autopsy laboratory tests.

"Variant CJD is a rare, degenerative, fatal brain disorder in humans," explained CDC. It is thought that humans contract the disease after eating cow products from animals that are infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known most commonly as mad cow disease.

Much is still to be learned about the disease, but CDC noted that it is thought that patients develop variant CJD years after eating a product from a cow infected with mad cow disease. Symptoms may include psychiatric or sensory changes, along with neurologic problems. These neurologic problems can include dementia and ataxia (issues with muscle control and coordination).

CDC noted that since variant CJD was first discovered in the United Kingdom (UK) in 1996, 229 cases in 12 countries have been reported. The vast majority of these cases (177) have occurred in the UK, with France reporting 27 cases, and all other countries reporting single digit case numbers.

A total of four cases, including the recent Texas case, have been identified in the US. In all four cases, it is suspected that the infection occurred outside the US — three cases have been tied to the UK and one to Saudi Arabia.

"The history of this fourth patient includes extensive travel to Europe and the Middle East, and infection likely occurred outside the United States," reported both CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS).

TDSHS also stressed, "There are no Texas public health concerns or threats associated with this case."

The Texas case is still under joint investigation by CDC and TDSHS, who are working to identify a source of the patient's variant CJD infection.

Variant CJD differs from "classic" CJD, also a rare and fatal brain disorder, but one that is not tied to mad cow disease and occurs around the globe.

Review Date: 
June 6, 2014
Last Updated:
June 6, 2014