- Scrapie, a disease primarily of sheep and occasionally of goats, is caused by a slow virus or viroid (very small virus-like particle).
- The incubation period, according to most research, is from 18 months to over 4 years. As a result, it is usually seen in animals from 2 to 6 years old.
- Death losses are 100% once signs develop. From initial signs to death, 2 to 6 months will pass.
- Early symptoms of scrapie are nervousness, slight muscle tremors, dull hair coat, and a slightly wobbly gait (especially if the animal is excited). As the diseas slowly progresses, itching begins, usually at the top of the tail and progresses forward over the body. The animal will rub, scratch, bite, or anything to scratch this area. A high degree of pleasure is derived from this scratching and the animal will lift its head and nibble with it lips and lick its tongue, as if enjoying the scratching. All the hair over these itching areas is often rubbed from the body.
- The animal will progressively lose weight, yet will eat until a day or so before dying. About 1 week before death it will lie down and be unable to rise.
- You can usually expect no more than 1 or 2 animals in a herd to be infected at any one time, but up to 50% will eventually become infected. Diagnosis can be made from symptoms, but confirmation in a laboratory is necessary.
- The disease is thought to be spread by contact with infected animals and from mother to offspring.
- There is no effective treatment.
- Several countries have eradication programs for scrapie.
- If this disease is suspected, the Agriculture Department authorities should be contacted.
- To prevent scrapie, buy from healthy herds and avoid all contacts with infected sheep and goats.
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