PerspectiveCan the Mad Cow Disease Outbreak Teach Us Anything about COVID-19?

Published 26 June 2020

When so-called “mad cow disease” hit the headlines in 1996, I was in the final stages of finishing my medical degree. Information back then was harder to come by without social media, but it was probably more accurate and varied without the echo chambers that are now created. Even so, relative panic ensued and there are parallels to be drawn with the current Covid-19 crisis. Dr. Waqar Rashid writes in The Spectator that the thought of a terrifying illness which we would have no protection against has always been lurking in the recesses of the human condition as one of our greatest fears. Children are taught about the bubonic plague; the ‘black death’ no less. Smallpox and tuberculosis epidemics were not that long ago. As time has gone on though we have been protected by improved hygiene and diet, antibiotics and vaccination. In the western world especially, we felt very safe and had become complacent. Even TB, which will almost certainly kill far more people this year than Covid-19, is thought by many people in Britain to have been consigned to the past not so long ago. “This isn’t, of course, to discount the threat from COVID-19,” he writes. “Tens of thousands have died and each of these deaths brings with it grieving relatives mourning a life cut short. But it is vital that we see this illness in a wider context. And remembering how we reacted to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) helps in some way towards doing that.”