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Most People Don't Get Mad Cow from Meat

Most people who get Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the human form of Mad Cow Disease, don't get it from eating meat. Are our pets in danger of getting it??since most pet food is made from dogs and cats.

Malcolm Ritter writes that despite the fact that around 250 people in the U.S. die from CJD every year, most of these cases don't come from eating meat. "Classic" CJD usually occurs in older people who have inherited a genetic mutation for it. "Variant" CJD can be caught from eating tainted meat and also from contaminated equipment used for medical procedures, since the prions that pass along the disease are not killed by ordinary sterilization techniques.

The "classic" version of CJD, which usually strikes older people, starts with trouble standing and walking, then progresses to involuntary movements, speech abnormalities and weakened mental abilities. "Variant" CJD is usually caught by young people and half these victims die by age 28. Their symptoms begin with depression and anxiety, progressing to numbness, until they are unable to move or speak. The "classic" form kills more quickly, which is one way doctors diagnose CJD instead of Alzheimer's Disease.

Can our pets get it? They could?but none have so far in the U.S. Since 1997, the U.S. has banned feeding cattle, sheep or goats any food that contains brain and spinal cord material. However, these animal parts can still be put into pet food. The FDA plans to extend that ban to pet food in 2007. One sad reason this is important is that some elderly and poor people eat canned pet food because it's cheaper.

"There is no evidence that dogs have ever gotten this disease," says veterinarian Alfonso Torres. But Mad Cow has been found in a about 100 cats in the U.K., as well as a few others in Europe. The British cats all got the disease around the same time, probably from a batch of tainted cat food.

Veterinarian Stephen Sundlof, who works for the FDA, says that animals unfit for human consumption can be used in pet food "but they must be processed in such a way that they are deemed safe for the pets. This generally means that the pet food must be heat-treated or the animal-derived parts must be rendered to destroy any pathogens." However, heating does not destroy the prions that pass along Mad Cow disease.

Mad Cow??that's something our doctors never told us about. Every new era seems to bring a new disease along with it. Find out what the future will bring on when Whitley interviews John Hogue on this week's Dreamland.Subscribers can hear his New Year?s predictions for 2004, and non-subscribers can listen to the first 10 minutes of the interview by clicking "Listen Now" on our masthead.

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