It now appears that an epidemic of human mad cow disease is in its initial stages in Great Britian. If this is true, experts estimate that as many as 500,000 Britons could die of the disease over the next 30 years. Fourteen Britons have died of the disease this year, and five others are dying of it. “I am worried about this year’s figures,” Dr. Roy Anderson, a zoologist from Oxford who has studied the epidemic, told the London Independent this week. He explained that the disease has a long incubation period, and that cases being seen now were caused by exposure to contaminated beef in the early 1980s. Later, cases start appearing in a trickle, rising slightly each year until the rate of increase become exponential. “That’s what you expect in an epidemic,” Dr. Anderson said.

British cattle began dying of the disease in the mid-1980s. Since then, more than 176,000 cattle have died of the disease and 4 million have beendestroyed. The transfer to humans was first noted in 1996, when ten young people died of the ailment. Since the disease has an incubation period of more than 25 years, it could be that millions of Britons have been exposed. So far, all who have contracted the disease have possessed a particular genetic trait that seems to predispose people to it. Unfortunately, 40% of the British population possess this trait.

It is believed that foodstuffs such as sausages made from cattle parts,scrap meat and offal, were heavily contaminated.

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