BSE is a neurologic disease that affects the brain structure of infected cattle. It is caused by proteins called prions, which cause animals to lose motor skills, develop coordination problems, lose weight, and experience decreased milk production and behaviour changes, hence the name ‘mad cow disease’. There is no vaccine against BSE and no treatment once an animal is infected. Once symptoms develop, its condition deteriorates until it is euthanised or dies from the disease.
The first confirmed case of BSE was diagnosed in the UK in 1987 and this is also the country with the most cases until now, over 180 000. The first case outside of the UK was recorded in 1989 in Ireland and it the spread over Europe. Other countries highly affected were Portugal, France, Spain and Germany. Outside of Europe the disease was reported in Canada, USA, Brazil and Japan. The most recent case was just (October 2018) confirmed in Scotland.
Humans can’t get mad cow disease, it can only occur in cattle. They can, however, develop a related infection—called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD)—by eating contaminated meat. The most well-known outbreak of vCJD occurred in the United Kingdom in the 1980s and 1990s.