Q: I've been reading a lot of news about mad cow disease. Is it safe to eat beef?

Johnson, Richard T.

DEPARTMENT: Ask the Experts

Dr. Richard T. Johnson is a professor of Neurology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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A: Dr. Richard T. Johnson advises

You need to put the risks in perspective. Five thousand people die of food-related diseases each year in the U.S. and none of those are related to mad cow disease. People die from eating contaminated strawberries, from eating hamburgers contaminated with Escherichia coli (E. coli) or chicken contaminated with salmonella bacteria, or from eating potato salad that's been left sitting at room temperature for too long.

The concern over mad cow disease is disproportional to the actual risk. People are worried about eating beef because mad cow disease causes a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is fatal. But this variant has never been transmitted in the U.S. On the other hand, 30,000 people die from the flu each year. But flu is a recoverable illness, so we're less concerned about that.

Do I eat beef? Sure. The beef industry has improved its guidelines to keep high-risk materials out of the food chain, and other potentially unsafe practices have been stopped. Mad cow is a scary disease, but you have to be rational about it.

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For more information

Parkinson's Disease and Depression

National Institiute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke www.ninds.nih.gov

Click on “Parkinson's Disease” and scroll down to “Summary: Diagnosis of Depression in Parkinson's Disease.”

These organizations have information on PD and depression posted on their Web sites:

Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research www.michaeljfox.org

National Parkinson Foundation www.parkinson.org

Parkinson's Disease Foundation www.pdf.org

WE MOVE (Worldwide Education & Awareness for Movement Disorders) www.wemove.org

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Postherpetic Neuralgia

The American Academy of Neurology has practice guidelines on the treatment of postherpetic neuralgia. Visit www.aan.com, click on “practice guidelines” and scroll down to the guidelines.

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Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

National Instititute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cjd/cjd.htm

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation Inc. Tel: (330) 665-5590 (800) 659-2474 – Helpline Fax: (330) 668-2474

©2005 American Academy of Neurology