Symptoms and Signs of Mad Cow Disease (Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob)

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 12/2/2021

Doctor's Notes on Mad Cow Disease (Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob)

"Mad cow" disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) are types of infectious diseases caused by proteins in the brain called prions that affect the brains of cattle. “Mad cow” disease occurs after people eat beef infected with the disease, but due to government oversight, this form rarely occurs. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is more common and is due to genetics, infected surgical instruments, or transplant tissues, and can also occur with no known cause. 

Symptoms of “mad cow" disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease include

  • changes in attitude and behavior,
  • muscle spasms,
  • lack of muscle control,
  • gradual uncoordinated movements,
  • trouble standing and walking,
  • weight loss despite having an appetite, and
  • worsening problems with memory.

In the early stages, people may also experience psychiatric symptoms including

What Is the Treatment for Mad Cow Disease and Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease?

"Mad cow" disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) are forms of progressive and fatal brain disease. There is currently no treatment to cure or manage prion diseases such as “mad cow” disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Symptomatic care is used to make the person as comfortable as possible. 

Treatments for “mad cow” disease and CJD may include: 

  • Opioids for pain 
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Antidepressants
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids
  • Feeding tubes
  • Artificial breathing 

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.