Re: No prions
That's not quite right, or at lease a misunderstanding. While we still don't know precisely what the origin of BSE was, it's a good working hypothesis that Scrapie from sheep was indeed the initial spark (but there are other ideas, such as the endogenous virus hypothesis).
However, the species barrier in transmitting a TSE is immense - so there is very little chance of you receiving a dose of BSE prion that would cause you vCJD, or of a cow receiving a BSE-inducing inoculation from sheep meal - but once it has occurred, there is a much higher chance of then passing on that infectious prion through cannibalism (cf. kuru in man). The problem being that we fed ruminants other ruminants - so-called MBM (meat & bone meal). We only saw it here in the UK first because we changed the way we manufactured MBM at the end of the 70s and apparently the new method did not control the infectious vector.
We KNOW this was an important infection route just from looking at the disease surveillance data - as soon as the feeding ban was brought in around '88 the incidence of BSE in cattle shot down from tens of thousands to almost nothing. In the UK - partially because of this whole sorry affair - we have tremendously active public health surveillance, and as a result of all this effort in 2010-11 there were NO cases of BSE in our national herd. That's quite an achievement.
If you were unlucky enough to be infected with vCJD, the duration of the incubation period before the appearance of clinical symptoms would be strongly linked to your genotype: specifically, a methionine/valine polymorphism at codon 129 of the gene coding for the human prion protein.
Human clinical vCJD disease seemed to peak in 2000*, but ALL of these cases were known MM homozygotes. The predction of a 'second vast epidemic' you allude to was because of the potential vulnerability of MV or VV homozygous humans, who were thought to be (and may still be) at risk of developing vCJD.
As usual with these things, the truth is much stranger than fiction.
I'll get my coat.
*Data from http://www.cjd.ed.ac.uk/documents/figs.pdf