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Scrapie

Scrapie is a fatal brain disease (TSE) of sheep and goats. It is not known to pose a risk to human health.

The agent causing the infection is thought to be an infectious protein called a prion.

Classical scrapie, which has been present in the UK for more than 250 years, is transmitted by exposure to scrapie-infected sheep and their environment. The incubation period can be a number of years.

The disease is most commonly seen in animals between two and five years old.

Atypical scrapie has been detected in recent years, primarily through the testing programme for fallen stock and abattoir culls. However, retrospective studies have indicated that it has been present in the UK since the late 1980s. The route of infection is poorly understood and the disease is most commonly seen in animals over five years old.

The clinical signs of scrapie are similar to those of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and there is a risk that sheep and goats were exposed to the BSE agent in contaminated feed.

Experiments show that sheep are susceptible to BSE and natural BSE has been confirmed in a goat.

The public health concern about the possibility of BSE affecting sheep or goats has caused concern about the continued presence of scrapie in the EU. Active surveillance programmes have been put in place to monitor for scrapie in fallen stock and at the abattoir.

In sheep, classical scrapie can be controlled by breeding programmes, as there are breed lines of sheep which carry genetic factors (alleles), which give resistance to the disease.

In goats the genetics evidence is being gathered that certain alleles are protective in certain herds.

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