I was delighted when, Ionel Iloae, a Romanian journalist, told a humorous story, albeit dark humor, of an entire village in Dragata, Moldova, who ate a “mad” cow. He was not talking about mad cow disease or Creutzfeldt-Jakob syndrome, but a cow that had been bitten by a rabid animal, presumably a fox.
The drama started with a family’s cow breaking a window and exhibiting the strange behavior of kicking the walls of the barn. Frightened, the Chiriacs called in the veterinarian, Robert Ciubotaru. After the cow was immobilized, the vet took blood samples and warned the family to stay away, as he was suspecting that the cow was infected with rabies.
The rabies virus is a neurotropic virus that causes fatal disease in humans and animals, the transmission occurring through saliva, hence the speculation that the cow had been bitten by an already infected animal.
A cow is a very precious and lucrative commodity on a farm. Why let such an opportunity go to waste? The wife decided to slaughter the animal before it expired, cook part of it for her family, and sell the rest to the village for 10 lei a kilogram. Word spread like wildfire and the villagers came in droves to buy fresh meat sold so much cheaper than the going price. Some, who left empty-handed and disappointed when the meat ran out, did not realize how lucky they were.
By sun down, Elena Chiriac sold all the beef, about 200 kilos. The village police officer bought some but the mayor left disappointed. People all over the village had a feast and enjoyed their fresh beef. Elena cooked the liver immediately - it was her favorite dish.
The next morning, the results of the blood test came in. The cow was rabid and everybody had to turn in the meat bought the previous day. A large hole was dug up, the leftover meat was thrown in with a good dose of diesel and a fire was lit up until every piece of the poor animal was burned.
I never liked or ate beef personally – cows were always pets for me. My Grandparents kept them for dairy purposes. We milked them and made butter and cheese. Cows had a good and long life on our farm; they always died of old age, not disease. Only then were they sent to the city slaughterhouse.
Twenty-five people admitted that they had consumed the infected meat, the rest of the villagers were too ashamed. Only the fear of a painful death by rabies convinced the rest to submit to immediate vaccination. The mayor and the prefect had to obtain special dispensation for immediate delivery of all the necessary vaccines or the entire village would die.
The remorseful Elena, who knew better, but was more interested in the economics of her cow than the safety of her neighbors, hid in shame. A retired teacher and a village elder, everybody trusted her.
The incubation period of a rabies infection is 20 to 90 days. If the vaccine is administered immediately, there are no dangers. The virus enters through saliva and micro-lesions in the skin. After 30 days from infection, the disease becomes fatal. There are some cases in Africa of a rabies strain in the Yellow Mongoose where the animal can live asymptomatic for years.
The Director of DSV in charge of the food supply and animal safety did not assign blame to anyone. “The woman is not responsible that her cow got sick. We will assess the situation and pay the owner for the cow. We found the rabies in time, people are being vaccinated, and the risks are minor.”
As Ionel Iloae so aptly describes it, in Moldova everything is handled with kindness – even a potential “small accidental genocide.” The whole story would make a perfect comedy of errors plot.
Most people, who lined up at the village dispensary in a state of agitation to be vaccinated, admitted, “It was an issue of national interest.” Some villagers have refused the vaccine so far. From a family of eight who ate the tainted beef, only one person admitted to have eaten the meat, and time is running out. The cow was slaughtered on May 12.