Mad cow disease is a fatal disease that destroys the central nervous system of cattle. The same insane cow disease that affects animals cannot affect humans, but there is a human form of the mad cow disease, which is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). CJD rapidly destroys a person’s brain and spinal cord, leading to dementia and, ultimately, death. CJD is caused by the buildup of abnormal prion protein in the brain. These prions affect the brain’s signaling process, and damages neurons, resulting in degeneration. The disease is fast-progressive and a hundred percent fatal. Death is almost sure within one year of onset of illness.

A type of CJD is the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).  A person can get vCJD if he has eaten a nerve tissue of infected cattle.


  • Sporadic CJD: Most people develop the disease for no apparent reason. 85% of all CJD cases are occasional. This type is caused by the spontaneous buildup of abnormal prion protein in the brain.
  • Familial CJD: An inherited genetic mutation causes this type. 15% of the cases of CJD fall under this type.
  • Acquired CJD: This type is caused by contamination of tissues from an infected person, usually due to a medical procedure including blood transfusion, human-derived pituitary growth hormones, gonadotropin hormone therapy, and corneal transplants.


A type of acquired CJD is the variant Variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (vCJD) in which the disease is caused by consuming nerve tissues of a contaminated cow.


CJD is characterized by rapid, progressive mental deterioration. Initial signs and symptoms are:

  • Personality changes
  • Behavioural changes
  • Poor coordination
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Memory loss
  • Cognitive changes
  • Impaired thinking
  • Visual disturbances or blindness
  • Insomnia
  • Speech impairment
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sudden involuntary movements

Most victims die within six months after the onset of the illness. They would often lapse into a coma, and die of pneumonia or respiratory failure due to impaired coughing reflexes. Only 15% of people with the disease survive for more than a year.


The doctor will initially suspect CJD in a rapidly progressing dementia person, especially when other symptoms are also present. Further testing will support the diagnosis; some of the tests are:

  • Electroencephalography: to check the electrical signals of the brain. A periodic sharp-wave pattern develops in people with sporadic CJD
  • Cerebrospinal fluid: to analyze the protein levels of 14-3-3 protein. If high levels are found, it could be indicative of the CJD.
  • MRI: to check and analyze the internal structures of your brain
  • Brain biopsy: Though this procedure is dangerous, it is the only way to confirm the diagnosis. The doctor will get a small tissue sample from the patient’s brain to be examined by a neuropathologist.


There is no treatment to cure and control CJD. Current treatments available are only aimed to ease symptoms. Opiate drugs can help alleviate pain. Psychiatric symptoms are treated with sedatives and antidepressants. Involuntary jerky movements are handled with drugs clonazepam or sodium valproate.

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