A disease that already sounds like it should feel right at home in a post apocalyptic or dystopian sci-fi novel has just gotten a lot creepier with one of the symptoms of mad cow now turning out to be “glowing eyes.” But with the new revelation, there may be a new system for farmers to separate good cattle from deadly cattle.
The research comes from Iowa State University, where scientists have examined the retinas of animals infected with BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) and Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (also known as Mad Cow). The eyes don’t necessarily glow in the dark, but rather react to fluorescent light such as black lights, emitting an eerie glow uncharacteristic of healthy animals.
Under normal circumstances, up until now animals with the disease had to be dissected in ways that most industrial farms would have found too costly and draining to resources for a disease that is thought to have only killed around 170 people. But independent researchers have suggested that the final horror of the disease may be its long incubation period and the variants of the disease (also known as vCJD) which have not made it into the official statistics. The disease’s containment has cost the cattle industry millions worldwide with the most damage done to United Kingdom. Could this silent killer prove to be a major world problem in a world where beef is a multi billion dollar industry? Fears over a US outbreak have been around for years.
But this new test may have many applications, and not just for discovering mad cow disease. Alzheimer’s patients may eventually be struck by a similar lighting effect to study and analyze their disease before more invasive tests are to be performed to confirm it. But is it possible this new technology will reveal something that many have feared for years? What if mad cow is far more prevalent than once thought? As the disease has a suspected sixteen to thirty year incubation period, is it possible it could have leaked into the food supply without our knowledge?
There is even a concern that vaccines could contain the disease, including polio vaccines which are ubiquitous in the United States, according to a 2008 article by the New York Times. Additionally, several infringements on US protection protocols have suggested the disease could have somehow leaked into the food supply at any point. Since it has officially “never hit the US,” outside of three isolated cases in 2005, mad cow disease is not normally screened. Many who have even lived in Europe are considered at risk for the disease, and are not allowed to donate blood in the event there could be an outbreak. Of course the ban came not before a window period where many of these individuals could have donated blood. The silent killer could have been transmitted during this time and infected many.
Will the disease that gives cows glowing eyes be a major health concern? It’s difficult to tell. In fact, until better tests such as this one are developed it will always be hard to tell.