What Is Mad Cow Disease? Cow in Scotland Discovered With Illness

A neurological disorder that impacts cattle was found in a cow at a farm in Scotland. Mad Cow disease, otherwise known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, rapidly spreads and damages the central nervous system of the infected cows and kills them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease causes erratic behavior among cows that are infected as it breaks down the tissues in their brains.

The case found in Scotland was isolated, the BBC reported. It occurred on a farm near the Huntly area, and after the case was discovered a movement ban was placed on the herd at the farm.

The disease was found in an animal after it was dead but before it was turned into food or came in contact with other food for consumption, the BBC reported. There is still an investigation into where the disease could have originated.

This case is one of less than 20 found in the United Kingdom since 2011. Tests are done regularly to check animals for the disease that can spread rapidly to keep the cases at bay.

In 1995, there were 14,562 cases of BSE in the U.K. and in the years following there were significantly fewer cases. Exactly how the disease spreads isn't well understood by those who study the disease. It's known that the disease transfers through proteins called prions. What is unknown is how exactly it's transferred so that another cow gets sick with the disease.

Researchers think the prion might form from a normal prion protein and change to a bad protein that's harmful to the cows. It likely first started making the rounds in cows in the 1970s, but researchers aren't completely sure.

There is evidence of different types or strains of BSE, or mad cow disease, according to the CDC. There is the classic BSE found in the U.K. and then also possibly H and L strains as well that are more common in the United States and in Canada.

There is very little risk to humans because the cows have been isolated and were not used for food when they were infected.

A cow is silhouetted on a pasture near the Trans-Canada Highway north of Calgary, Alberta, on February 13, 2015. Mad cow disease, a neurological disorder that impacts cattle, was found in a cow at a farm in Scotland. Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images