Local News

Experts Say Chances Slim On Eating Mad Cow-Tainted Beef In N.C.

Posted December 30, 2003

— Beef is a staple at many dinner tables across North Carolina, but what are the chances you could become infected by eating a piece of meat tainted with mad cow disease?

Lunch for a lot of people means a good burger and fries. For Wiley Brown III, the threat of mad cow disease is not enough to steer him away from beef.

"I probably eat burgers two or three a week," he said. "I intend to keep eating my beef."

Officials said the chances of ordering a burger in North Carolina and getting infected with mad cow disease are pretty slim.

"It's much more likely you'd be injured or killed in an automobile accident on a highway," said Dr. Charles Kirkland, of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

If someone eats a piece of contaminated meat, he/she becomes infected with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The disease is found in a cow's brain or spinal column. Kirkland said that makes it unlikely that a piece of meat at the supermarket would be tainted with it.

"The brain and spinal cord are not routinely put in steak, roasts -- that kind of thing," he said.

However, experts said it is sometimes found in hamburger meat although the amounts are so small, the chances of getting mad cow disease are minute. If you did eat a contaminated piece of meat, experts said the symptoms could take between one and seven years to show up.

"You lose memory, coordination, and eventually [you] become incoherant and there's probably some paralysis," Kirkland said. "There are more questions than answers."

While Kirkland understands people's fears, he said people should not let them change their eating habits.

As a precaution against possible transmission of the human form of mad cow disease, the American Red Cross does not accept blood donations from anyone who has lived for more than three months in the United Kingdon since 1980 when that country had the deadly outbreak.

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