Up to 30,000 people in Britain may be silent carriers of the human form of mad cow disease, according to new research published Tuesday. Here's what you need to know about bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, according to CNN, Yahoo! News and Mayo Clinic.
What is it? -- BSE is a transmissible, degenerative and fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of adult cattle.
Where did it come from? -- Mad cow disease was first recognized as an infectious disease in 1986, after it began to appear in cattle in Great Britain in 1985.
Can I get it? -- BSE can be spread to humans who eat infected meat. It can also spread through meat that has come in contact with infected tissue or that has been processed in contaminated machinery.
What are the odds? -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the chance of humans contracting mad cow disease is less than one in 10 billion. Since 1996, 195 cases in 11 countries have been reported -- including two in the U.S.
What are the symptoms? Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease -- the human variant of mad cow disease -- is marked by rapid mental deterioration, usually within a few months, according to Mayo Clinic. Symptoms include anxiety, depression, personality changes, memory loss, impaired thinking, blurred vision, insomnia, difficulty speaking and swallowing, and sudden jerky movements.
What should I avoid? -- The consumer advocacy group Consumeraffairs.com advises avoiding the brains, neck bones and cheeks of cattle.
More Tips -- Avoid bone marrow and cuts of beef that are sold on the bone, and choose ground beef that has been ground on-site in the store.
Can I cook it out? -- Unlike other meat-borne illnesses such as E. coli bacteria, cooking does not kill mad cow disease.
Can my pet get it? -- Cats are susceptible to a version of BSE through cat food and meat scraps, but no other pets are known to be able to contract mad cow disease, according to the Food and Drug Administration.