Two days before Christmas, a Holstein cow slaughtered in the state of Washington tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- the nation's first confirmed case of mad cow disease. The ensuing two weeks have brought about more questions than answers, as well as a ban on U.S. beef imports by more than 30 countries.

How much danger is really out there for beef consumers? It's hard to say. On the one hand, The Washington Postlightly dismisses the topic, saying your chances of being harmed are less than "starring in the next Paris Hilton video," or "being hit by lightning and a meteor while holding the winning Powerball ticket."

Yet, that paper's same issue detailed the heartbreaking story of the only American to have contracted the human form of the disease. The 22-year-old woman lost total control of her body and mind within six months of her first symptoms, and will eventually die as a result. She is believed to have contracted the disease sometime during the first 13 years of her life, when her family lived in Britain.

You see the problem here: It could be 10 years or more from the time of exposure until the first symptoms appear. While the evidence seems to solidly back the government's contention that the U.S. beef supply is safe, it's not hard to understand the concerns. Those who would blame "The Media" for even reporting the story are missing the fact that when a single case of the disease turned up in Canada last May, the U.S. implemented strict trade restrictions with its northern neighbor that have only since been partially eased.

Thus far, beef-related stocks have not been hard hit. Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN) is down about 7% since the news broke, while McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), and Wendy's (NYSE:WEN) are off only 1%. Outback Steakhouse (NYSE:OSI) (down 3%) and LoneStar Steakhouse (NASDAQ:STAR) (up 2%) are similarly unaffected.

Though keeping a wary eye on things, it seems U.S. consumers and investors are giving the industry the benefit of the doubt -- for now. At the same time, it may take many months before foreign trade restrictions are lifted and beef producers shake off the effects of the embargos.