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Mary Had a Mad Lamb?

U.K. sheep may have been infected with mad cow disease in early '90s

Anyone who ate British sheep in the early 1990s may have been exposed to mad cow disease, U.K. officials have announced.

The U.K. Food Standards Agency has been testing 156 sheep that were given the same feed responsible for infecting cattle with mad cow disease. All were known to be infected with scrapie, the sheep form of bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE or mad cow disease), reports this article from the BBC News. Scrapie is not believed to be a threat to humans. But, these sheep may actually have had mad cow disease.

If the sheep did have mad cow disease, the consequences could be more dire than those from cattle, according to this article from New Scientist. That's because the infection in cows is isolated to certain areas, such as the brain and spinal cord. But in sheep, more tissues -- such as the lymph nodes -- would be infected and potentially dangerous to humans, reports the article.

"If BSE did spread to sheep it would be serious," says an FSA spokesperson. The agency is not recommending that consumers stop eating lamb, but says it wanted to inform them of this theoretical risk.

The disease takes five to 10 years before it shows up in humans. One Hong Kong woman was recently diagnosed with the human form of mad cow disease, according to this article from CNN. If confirmed, it would be the first case of the disease in Asia. The woman, however, did live in Britain for a number of years.

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