A few years ago, "mad cow disease" stole the headlines and got the attention of cattlemen all across the nation. There are fewer headlines about another disease that similarly affects sheep, however, even though it represents a serious threat to farm businesses in West Virginia and other states that are involved in raising sheep.
Officials at the West Virginia Department of Agriculture are concerned enough that they are offering a free service to sheep producers in the state, so they can get their sheep tested for a genetic susceptibility to the disease.
"A simple blood test can determine if a ram carries the genetic susceptibility to the disease, or if it is one that has a genetic resistance against Scrapie," says West Virginia State veterinarian Gary Kinder. "A resistant ram is good breeding stock because he won't pass along susceptibility to his offspring."
Scrapie gets its name from one of the disease's symptoms; infected sheep will sometimes rub against fence posts or trees. The disease is classified as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, the same kind of disease that causes mad cow disease in cattle, chronic waste in deer and elk and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in humans.
The disease can cause significant loss of sheep production and also limits export marketing. To participate in the voluntary testing program producers should call WVDA's Animal Health Division at (304) 558-2214 to schedule testing.
WVDA notes there is no evidence that Scrapie is transmitted to humans through direct contact, or through the consumption of sheep or goat products.
USDA has an educational website on the disease, located at www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/animal_diseases/scrapie/