Public health officials in Massachusetts are investigating whether a patient in a Cape Cod hospital has the human form of mad cow disease.

Dr. Alfred DeMaria, the state's director of communicable disease control, confirmed Sunday to The Associated Press that tests are being done to see if the patient has Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and whether it's the variant attributed to mad cow.

There have only been three cases of the human form of mad cow disease reported in the United States in the last several years, and officials say it's extremely unlikely the patient in Cape Cod Hospital has the disease.

Mad cow disease — medically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE — causes spongy holes in the brain.

Eating meat products contaminated with mad cow disease is linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal human malady.

DeMaria says it will take a few more days before the test results are available. He said there are about a half-dozen cases reported every year in Massachusetts and about 300 nationwide.

A spokesman for Cape Cod Hospital confirmed the facility notified public health officials Thursday of a patient with test results that require reporting. He said hospital officials were told the illness was not contagious and that there was no cause for concern.