What is Scrapie?

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Minnesota Board of Animal Health Reportable Disease of the Month Header

October 2016


Black faced sheep in barn

What is it?

A transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (affects the brain) impacting sheep and goats. It’s found worldwide, except in Australia and New Zealand. It’s related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) and chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, and is part of a national eradication program in the United States.

How is it transmitted?

Scrapie is understood to be transmitted during lambing and kidding, when the newborn lambs/kids or other sheep/goats in the flock have contact with the placenta and/or birth fluids from infected ewes or does. It is also believed previously infected premises can leave contaminants behind and infect exposed sheep or goats.

What are the signs in animals?

Infected animals may display neurologic and behavior changes, such as lip smacking, nervousness, scratching or rubbing on objects, hypersensitivity to noise or movement, bunny hopping, and lack of coordination. Signs appear between two to five years after infection and once the clinical signs appear, the animal typically dies within six months.

What is the treatment?

Once scrapie is identified in a flock, treatment consists of testing and depopulating to remove all infected animals from the farm. Those animals are properly disposed to reduce further risk of spreading the disease.

How is scrapie in animals diagnosed?

In sheep, a blood testing process called genotyping allows veterinarians to determine if the sheep is susceptible or resistant to scrapie. The role of genetics in goats remains unknown. Veterinarians diagnose scrapie based on history, clinical signs, and tissue from the rectum of a live animal or the brain of a dead animal.

Is there a risk to people?

There is no evidence to support a threat to human health.

How can it be prevented?

By tracking and reporting the disease to state and federal animal health authorities. Tracking of this disease is vital to the goal of eliminating it from the United States.