Airborne prions are also infectious and can induce mad cow disease or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disorder, new findings suggest. This is the surprising conclusion of researchers at the University of Zurich, the University Hospital Zurich and the University of Tübingen. They recommend precautionary measures for scientific labs, slaughterhouses and animal feed plants. The prion is the infectious agent that caused the epidemic of mad cow disease, also termed bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and claimed the life of over 280,000 cows in the past decades.
Transmission of BSE to humans, e.g. by ingesting food derived from BSE-infected cows, causes variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease which is characterized by a progressive and invariably lethal break-down of brain cells. It is known that prions can be transmitted through contaminated surgical instruments and, more rarely, through blood transfusions.