Similarities Between AIDS and Mad Cow Disease : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

February 4, 2001 AIDS and Mad Cow Disease: Two Epidemics That Are Alike By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. -------------------------------------------------------------------- Agence France-Presse

-------------------------------------------------------------------- ARIS STRICTLY speaking, there is no connection between AIDS and mad cow disease. The first is caused by a retrovirus, which overpowers the genetic material of cells, forcing them to create duplicates. The second is caused by a prion, an infectious protein that seems to "persuade" other proteins to imitate its abnormal folds. Whales and mosquitoes have more in common.

So why even discuss it?

Because, scientists say, the dis similarities end there, and there may be some lessons for politicians and public health officials in considering how the two epidemics are alike.

For one, both seem to have originated in a fairly obvious species transfer that seems to have involved a not-very-obvious trip to the dinner table: AIDS is believed to be a mutation of a virus from chimpanzees, which are butchered and eaten in central Africa. Scientists believe that new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob syndrome, the human form of mad cow disease, comes, obviously, from cattle.

Cattle, which are not normally carnivores, probably were first infected by eating meal containing the ground-up carcasses of sheep who died of scrapie, another prion disease. We play with the food chain at our epidemiological peril.

Also, both diseases had gone global before anyone realized it. AIDS started in Africa, but it wasn't described until perhaps 30 years later, when it decimated the clienteles of gay bars in San Francisco and New York. It took another decade for the world to realize that African "slim" was the same disease and that it was far more widespread in Africa than in America.

Mad cow was first spotted in Britain in the 1980's, and until recently was thought to have been contained there. Now bovine spongiform encephalopathy has been found in France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, and no one has a clue as to how many people will eventually die of the human variant. As with AIDS, the incubation period is very long.

And both, of course, caused panics. Some people became phobic about shaking hands, sharing a glass of water or letting their children attend schools if pupils weren't screened for H.I.V. In Europe, sales of beef have plummeted; in France, the sale of horse meat has gone up by 30 percent.

Part of that primal fear, suggested Dr. Max Essex, chairman of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health, is that neither disease is well understood. New flus emerge each year, but the basic virus structure is known and vaccines are relatively easy to make. But retroviruses are still fairly new, while prions which reproduce without using DNA and are so stable that they resist boiling, alcohol and radiation "violate all the principles of cell biology we thought we knew," Dr. Essex said.

When scientists can't easily translate a disease into populist terms, the public gets nervous, he said. The analogy some biologists use to explain prions is ice-nine, a conceit of the Kurt Vonnegut novel "Cat's Cradle," a crystal that "teaches" water to stack and crystallize in the same pattern. The fictional result is not reassuring: it touches the ocean, and the world freezes.

Not surprisingly, in the early days of epidemics, scientists flail around. One 14th-century treatment for bubonic plague was to shave a live chicken's bottom and strap it to the plague sore (which usually began in the armpit or groin, so there was some risk of dying of embarrassment first). Since the purple buboes were egg-shaped, one could see the medieval medical mind at work.

Modern-day flailing is likely to include fears for the blood supply, something politicians find easy to stir up. France's great AIDS scandal was the government's lack of panic; hundreds of hemophiliacs were infected while health ministers said there was nothing to worry about. Now, fearing mad cow, the United States has banned blood donations from anyone who lived in Britain for six months in the 1980's. But there may be no point, since prions are found in the brain, spine and gut, not in blood, and may not be transmitted that way.

"We have to make recommendations based on limited information," said Dr. David L. Heymann, the executive director in charge of communicable diseases for the World Health Organization, "but it's better to be on the conservative side and change the rules later."

Official reassurances also played an embarrassing role in mad cow disease. The epidemic's most enduring image is Britain's agriculture minister, John Gummer, feeding his 4-year-old daughter a hamburger on TV in 1990 to prove that British beef was safe.

PANIC can also foster a need to blame someone. Early in the AIDS epidemic, gay men who didn't want to out themselves had a bitter joke about the hardest part of having AIDS being breaking the news to your mother that you were Haitian. Haitians had been demonized because the disease, obscure at the time, was more common among Haitians, and the first transmission to American men may have been by a Canadian air steward who had gay sex in Haiti.

Dr. Essex recalled an African AIDS conference with delegates from Uganda and Tanzania who agreed that the disease was being spread by truckers on the highway between Kampala and Dar es Salaam but each side, he said, insisted that it had started in the other country.

This is also a surprisingly familiar pattern in epidemics. In the 1500's, with the appearance of syphilis in Europe, sailors were rightly suspected, but the English called it the French pox and the French called it the Genoese pox. In fact, it seems to have come from American Indians, who gave it to Columbus's men, some of whom fought at the siege of Genoa. (The Old World's thank-you gift was smallpox, which did far more damage.)

Mad cow disease has followed a similar pattern of jingoistic blame. British beef was banned in 1989 by other Europeans, who hooted at the "rosbifs." But after cases turned up in France, Italian protesters closed the border to French beef last year. Until November, Germany's agriculture minister claimed the country was "immune." Now he is abashed.

Besides blaming other countries, some blame human sinfulness. Religious conservatives called AIDS divine revenge on homosexuals, forgetting that it first killed a lot of hemophiliac children.

Animal rights groups say omnivorous humans are getting what they deserve for raising cattle in so beastly a fashion. Throughout the Middle Ages, plague outbreaks inspired flagellants to walk from town to town whipping themselves to atone for the sins of others.

Lastly, there is one other similarity between the two diseases: catching them usually involves a certain amount of fun, which makes them dangerous.

Plenty of people will happily avoid kissing a flu victim or an Ebola victim for a few days, which is all it takes to stop transmission. But giving up red meat and sex or even just sausage and unprotected sex until all the carriers can be incinerated (in the case of cattle) or quarantined (in the case of humans) is impossible. Lovers break the rules secretly; powerful ranching, ground-meal and feedlot industries stall on letting the rules be changed. As a result, high-risk groups persist, sometimes secretly, that public health officials must find.

AND that opens the door to politics, which rarely interferes with containment schemes for flu or Ebola. Dr. David Nabarro, a W.H.O. official, recalled disagreeing long ago with an epidemiologist who had published an article suggesting that AIDS was going to kill vast numbers of Europeans.

"Aren't you overstating the risk?" he asked. The answer he got was: "It doesn't matter, does it? Because anything that reduces the number of sexual partners is a good thing." That, he recalls thinking, was "a very odd mentality that it was legitimate to overstate fear because it kept kids from having lots of sex."

French scientists and politicians, he said, accepted as a matter of policy that sex was part of life. As a result, he said, their slogan, from France to Francophone Africa was: "Save love. Stop AIDS."

Beefeaters, British or otherwise, await their own motto.

-- Lynn Goltz (, February 05, 2001


Thank you for posting this Lynn. Vicki

-- Vicki McGaugh TX (, February 05, 2001.

I await the Christian perspective on this..

-- john hill (, February 05, 2001.

I'm guessing it is a typo and it should have been "Safe Love, STOP AIDS." But "Save Love" in the context of sex outside marriage makes sense also. As a 54-year old bachelor, I haven't been saving anything.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, February 05, 2001.

john, in the time of Jesus many diseases were considered to be the result of sin. Jesus healed them all as they came to him and believed, and he taught his disciples to do the same. The people of Haiti are some of the most beautiful people I have ever met and they are welcomed nowhere in the world. Those who judge others will ultimately be judged. It is the Christians job to care for the sick and feed the hungry and to love the Lord with all their heart. That some who call themselves Christians do not is to their failing, not the failing of the teacher they profess to follow.

-- diane (, February 05, 2001.

Okay, for my Christian 2 cents....Livitical Law forbids us to eat carnivorous and cannibalistic creatures. They are 'unclean.'

Under the New Testament, "all things are permissiable, but not all things are good for you."

I am sure someone more scholarly than myself has access to the full Jewish Law and can post what the Law says to do with with carcass leftovers. I am sure it does not say to feed them back to your livestock. I prefer to bury it deep and plant trees or perennials on it.

I read an article at WORLDNETDAILY that Britain exported contaminated feed for years all over the world. Jee, does that surprise anyone?

-- Laura (, February 05, 2001.

Laura, I am curious.

1)You say, "Livitical Law forbids us to eat carnivorous and cannibalistic creatures." Now that it is common knowledge that animal byproducts are fed to all types of domestic livestock either on purpose or accidentally (goats eating dog food), what is the current position on eating meat?

2)Also, not only did "Britain exported contaminated feed for years all over the world", they also exported bone and blood meal made into fertilizer. As the article states "prions which reproduce without using DNA and are so stable that they resist boiling, alcohol and radiation "violate all the principles of cell biology we thought we knew". Who know where they will strike next.

-- Lynn Goltz (, February 05, 2001.

To read the article referred to on the intentional sale of what may have been MCD infected MBM go to the issue for 2/4/01. Article title is "British firm linked to global BSE." Isn't world trade wonderful? Can't legally sell it at home - no problem - just export it.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, February 05, 2001.

Wow, it starts out with an accepted semi false presumption. Aids has never been conclusively linked to HIV, but be that as it may, if you want government funding to research it, you have to operate under that premise. Spin magazine had a series of articles on it years and years ago and many researchers were black balled for openly questioning the premise.

Anyway, I think it only serves to point out that our "modern industrialized, 'safe' society" is in trouble for treating everything like a factory and thinking we know best. If we would be able to become more self reliant and conscientious about our uses and profiteering on foods in general, animals in particular, we might be able to slow this thing down. I am a real cynic, I know, but when Purina buys a "healthy" herd of a thousand cattle and says they aren't going to use them for anything....I wonder who is checking on their promise?

I think I must seriously get rabbits to grow to feed my carnivores now. I would hate to see if this begins to manifest in pets all over this country, or any other country. Do you all think that's a possibility?

For the record I am a vegetarian and I don't feel smug or superior about this. This is very sad and very serious. I happen to love a lot of people who really like to eat meat.

-- Doreen (, February 05, 2001.


Just because you don't directly eat meat, doesn't mean you don't consume it. See following article. Animal byproducts are very prevasive in our consumer economy. It is in your lipstick and where do you think the gelatin in Jello comes from? Many diabetics would die without extracts from animal organs. Extract of animal origins are in other medications also.

February 6, 2001 Supplements Raise Mad Cow Concerns By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------- Related Articles No Threat Seen After Cattle Eat Banned Food (Jan. 31, 2001) On Watch for Any Hint of Mad Cow Disease (Jan. 30, 2001) Federal Officials Investigate Quarantined Cattle (Jan. 27, 2001) Cattle Producers Seek Mad Cow Action by U.S. (Jan. 26, 2001) Stringent Steps Taken by U.S. on Cow Illness (Jan. 14, 2001) Health Care Policy Home Health Home Forum Join a Discussion on Mad Cow Disease

---------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------- ASHINGTON -- Dr. Scott Norton was browsing through herbal supplements when he spotted bottles containing not just plants but some unexpected animal parts: brains, testicles, tracheas and glands from cows and other animals.

The Maryland physician sounded an alarm: How can Americans be sure those supplements, some imported from Europe, are made of tissue free from mad cow disease?

Norton's complaint has government scientists scrambling to investigate a possible hole in the nation's safety net against mad cow disease and its cousin that destroys human brains.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, has never been found in this country. Nor has the human ``new variant Creutzfeldt- Jakob disease'' that people in Britain, France and Ireland caught apparently from eating BSE-infected beef. The government has taken steps to guard against BSE spreading here, such as banning the importation of European beef imports and the use of even domestic cow remains in U.S. cattle feed.

But critics are pointing to some loopholes far removed from beef: Just what dietary supplements or bulk ingredients containing cow brain or nerve tissue might be slipping from Europe through U.S. ports?

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration quietly cracked down on some vaccine manufacturers after discovering they improperly imported certain European animal-derived ingredients. Supplements are far less closely regulated, and the FDA inspects less than 1 percent of all imports under its jurisdiction.

``It would not be difficult for a manufacturer of a dietary supplement to obtain a cow brain in Britain, crush it up, dry it up, and then if they wished get it into this country,'' contends Dr. Peter Lurie, a physician and consumer advocate who is one of the FDA's independent scientific advisers on BSE.

As for FDA catching such imports, ``if they find anything, it's good luck.''

Adds Dr. Paul Brown, the FDA advisers' chairman and a BSE expert at the National Institutes of Health: ``The worry is not that we're getting all kinds of cow brain from mad cows into this country. The worry is that we could, without knowing it,'' because the FDA lacks resources or authority to strongly police supplements.

Nor are imports the only loophole worry. Animals other than cows get similar brain diseases, including ``chronic wasting disease'' that afflicts deer and elk in certain Western states and scrapie in sheep.

Yet Norton discovered supplement labels that don't reveal which animal the tissue came from, or the country of origin. Some don't even clearly label animal tissue, merely listing ``orchis,'' for example, as an ingredient few laymen would recognize means testicles.

But of most concern are spinal cord and brain tissue, including glands found in the brain. Brown reads from one supplement label that promised half a gram of imported raw cow brain.

FDA officials contend the issue isn't a huge concern. They note the majority of supplements are made from plants, not animals.

They also insist bovine-containing supplements mostly are made from safe U.S. cattle, citing an FDA prohibition on certain cow-derived imported ingredients -- although they couldn't say how well inspectors enforced that import policy.

Still, the agency recently wrote supplement makers that it ``strongly recommends'' they take ``whatever steps are necessary'' to ensure products don't contain ingredients of concern.

``Our radar is on alert. We're actively reviewing'' the issue, said FDA supplement chief Christine Lewis, promising to make public her office's ultimate findings. So far, she said, ``we have minimal evidence there's a problem.''

The industry's Council for Responsible Nutrition also calls the worry exaggerated, saying gland-containing supplements account for less than 1 percent of sales. Officials are trying to determine how much is imported and plan to meet soon with FDA.

Meanwhile, what's a concerned consumer to think? The FDA's Robert Moore suggests calling supplement makers to ask their source of animal tissue. ``Just as if they're buying a car they need to be active participants in buying these things.''

Lurie is more blunt: ``I'm not taking any brain extracts, not a chance.''

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, February 06, 2001.

Ken, I know how pervasive it is. I always use make up with no animal testing, I avoid collagen stuff and I don't wear lipstick and STILL it is in the gel caps that contain herbal supplements and in almost all mints except for a very few. It just can't be easily avoided in this society. Certainly is difficult to avoid any meat products if I eat out here in cattle land! Lard in the beans, grease in the skillet, etal. So I don't feel untouched by this. It has to be contained somehow, but HOW?

I really wonder about the effects on pets...and chickens, and fish.

Yesterday I noticed that all of my neighbors took their cattle to market. I don't know if it's because the beef prices are high or because of this, and to be honest, I wouldn't want to ask them what they think about this as it might appear confrontational to them. Most cattle here are raised on grass and then they probably get grains when they are in the feedlots, but I don't know for sure.

-- Doreen (, February 06, 2001.

Doreen, the problem with makeup is NOT that is tested on animals. The problem for vegetarians is that lipstick is commonly made with animal fat. Cat and dog fat is especially good. About ten years ago there was an investigative series in the Wall Street Journal on the rendering of dead pets for their fat.

-- Lynn Goltz (, February 06, 2001.


As a cattle producer myself, I wish you would ask your neighbors why they took their cattle to the livestock auction. As I have said in the past, the first confirmed case of MCD or vCJD linked to MCD in the U.S. and mine are going before the market collapses.

Ken S.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, February 06, 2001.

Oh my, Mad Chicken Disease. Wouldn't Alfred Hickcock have had a field day with that one. "Farmer pecked to death by mad chickens." "Chickens break out of coop and attack caretakers." Mad Fish Disease. "Local swimmer attacked by crazed bluegills." Mad Horse Disease. "Broncos attack rodeo riders." Mad Rabbit Disease. "Worker found nibbled to death in rabbitry." Mad Bird Disease. "Parrot says he didn't kill housewife." Mad Frog Disease. "Local frogs are hopping mad." Mad Beaver Disease. "Local beavers appear to be dam mad." Mad Deer Disease. "Four local hunters stomped to death by deranged deer."

Other headlines welcome.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, February 06, 2001.

Lynn, for those of us who grew up with farming and livestock, it has always been common knowledge of the different varieties of feed. All vegetable, medicated and "crude animal protein." Our families have always used all vegetable protein for our livestock feed, this includes pigs and chickens. Knowing where crude animal protein comes from makes me want to keep it off my table. When we send a sick cow off to the renderers, I don't want it to come back as my dinner at a later time.

I've know several families who let their goats eat anything, feed diseased carcasses to their hogs and pretty much raise their stock in filth. I wouldn't eat anything from their farms, not even the eggs from their hens. The threat of diseases is far beyond that of MCD besides tasting like it was raised on filth. This seems to be how the corporate farms are raising our nation's food these days, and 'we the people' expect them and our government to look out for our best interests. It just seems people don't know the difference between clean and unclean anymore.

Ken, have you considered having your cattle herd get certified organic? You would always be able to bring top dollar, even if the bottom falls out of the beef market.

-- Laura (, February 06, 2001.

Lynn, I just stated the animal testing for general principles. Regardeless of prevailing public opinion, I am NOT a moron.

Ken, I spoke with one cattle rancher (a part timer) today and asked him as we are friends so I didn't feel it would be untoward. He said that since beef prices are so high right now most of the boys are selling off everything but a few heifers and some calves because they got killed financially with drought two years running. His take is that his cattle are raised on grass and hay and he doesn't care what they feed them after he has sold them.....he said there isn't anything he could do about it, so he won't worry about it. I'll have a closer look at my neighbors and see if they have left a few, and let you know.

-- Doreen (, February 06, 2001.


For three years I tried selling my weaned calves as raised under organic conditions. Sold one fat Jersey-cross steer. There just isn't a local market for it. Besides, I couldn't, in all honesty, say they are 100% organic. When I go out to feed the herd, I have been known to put some range cubes in my vest pockets for my favorites (I get frisked each time I go out in the field). My heifers and bulls, when separated from the herd, get a treat of whatever feed I can buy cheap at the co-op. They have gotten feed with mice holes in the bags, bug infested or overaged horse feed, swine feed and right now deer pellets. I'm just hope the first calf out of the heifers don't have a white spash under their tails, grow forked horns and have a tendency to jump fences.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, February 06, 2001.

Organophosphates, they ain't your friends. Please do a google search for "phosmet" if you are really interested and there are several things you can down;oad to see how pervasive this pesticidal use is worldwide. Here are two links for those who are only nominally interested:

-- Doreen (, February 06, 2001.


To enhance your post just a tad, it is the use of organophosphates which the researcher in Britian is trying to link to the outbreak of vCJD. Scientists normally gon't go Eureka, they go, 'Humm, that's interesting.' What he found interesting is MCD-tainted beef was widespread in urban areas, yet most of the vCJD clusters occurred in rural areas. Near each cluster he basically found widespread use of organophosphates, including being pored on the backs of cows to kill a parasite called the warble fly. MCD started to show up after this started. While it may not have been directly the cause of MCD, it may have been the trigger once cattle ate the scrapies-infested MBM.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, February 07, 2001.

Ken, I understood the point that man was trying to make was not so much that the pesticide caused the disease in the cattle only, but that perhaps the people who had the disease got it from the pesticide not tainted beef. I think it is rather interesting the way the clusters show up. Funny he can't seem to get funding for research after he has laid all the footwork out. Sounds to me like if there is any "coverup" it would be that the whole theory of MCD is inaccurate and we have another case like the Thalidamide kids years ago, only this time people have a slow, ugly death.

-- diane (, February 07, 2001.

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