Scrapie - an introduction
Scrapie develops due to changes in a protein present in the brain known as prion protein. Sheep affected by scrapie often display a general change in temperament or behaviour weeks before more specific signs develop. In most cases animals will show a combination of signs, but none of the signs alone can be regarded as a definite indication of scrapie. Scrapie should be considered in any sheep or goat showing nervous signs or changes in behaviour. Scrapie has been present in sheep for over 200 years and by law any animals suspected of having scrapie must be reported to the flock owner’s local Divisional Veterinary Office (DVO).
Most cases of scrapie occur in sheep between two and five years of age. Although rarely seen in sheep less than one year of age or over five years old, age alone cannot be used to rule out the presence of scrapie. It is rarely reported in goats in the UK but, again, the possibility of the disease cannot be ruled out.
Because clinical signs of disease appear a long time after initial infection, cases generally appear singly in a flock. This is very different from diseases such as sheep scab (psoroptic mange), which can spread quickly through a flock. Occasionally, several cases of scrapie can occur over a short period of time, mostly in animals born around the same time and possibly to the same sire. Cases can occur at any time of year, but stress can cause the clinical signs to appear. Scrapie is often more easily identified at times when sheep and goats are collected for management purposes, such as when sheep are brought in for lambing, or in the autumn, at tupping.
Most sheep show a gradual development of clinical signs over a period of several weeks or even months, although in some cases an animal’s condition may worsen rapidly. Some sheep and goats affected with scrapie may just be found dead without showing any clinical signs beforehand.
Clinical signs of scrapie
- repeated rubbing of flanks and hindquarters against objects such as fences, posts or hay racks
- repeated scratching of the flanks
- nibbling or grinding of teeth when rubbing themselves or when rubbed firmly on the back
- continued scratching of the shoulder or ear with a hind foot
- unusual or agitated nibbling of the feet, legs or other parts of the body
- excessive wool loss or damage to the skin
- changes in behaviour
- becoming excitable
- drooping ears
- increased nervousness or fear response
- lagging behind
- depression or vacant stare
- changes in posture and movement
- trembling (mainly of the head)
- unusual high stepping trot in early stages
- severe lack of coordination
- standing awkwardly
- weak hind legs
- unable to stand
- later clinical signs
- weight loss
If scrapie is suspected
Flock owners must immediately inform their local DVO. Signs of scrapie should not be ignored. If scrapie develops in a flock it will be difficult to get rid of as it spreads slowly and infection can remain in the environment for a long time.
Scrapie should be tackled before it becomes a flock problem.
For further information on scrapie please contact your local Divisional Veterinary Office.
The Northern Ireland Scrapie Plan (NISP)
The aim of the Northern Ireland Scrapie Plan (NISP) is to reduce the incidence of TSEs in sheep, to increase the genetic resistance of sheep to TSEs, and eventually to eliminate Scrapie from the national sheep flock.
The NISP is a voluntary, long-term initiative currently consisting of the Compulsory Scrapie Flock Scheme (CSFS). The Ewe Genotyping Scheme (EGS) which closed in 2009, the Ram Genotyping Scheme (RGS) which closed in 2010, and the Northern Ireland Ram Semen Archive which also closed in 2010 were also previously part of the NISP.
RGS and EGS
The main objective of these genotyping programmes introduced in NI in 2003 under the NISP was to reduce the incidence of Scrapie, build up resistance to Scrapie in breeding flocks, and consequently reduce the risk of BSE in sheep if it was present in the national flock.
Following an EU Commission decision not to proceed with planned compulsory genotyping, the RGS was reviewed on a UK-wide basis during 2006. The review included scientific developments from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) which concluded that the prevalence of BSE in the UK sheep population is likely to be zero, or very low if present at all. SEAC also concluded that there is no evidence to date that suggests Classical Scrapie poses any risk to human health. As a result on 31 March 2009 DEFRA closed the Great Britain scheme.
Following a recent NI review, the Minister has taken the decision to close the Scheme here also. This decision was taken as there is no longer a real threat of BSE in our national sheep flock and therefore the public health driver for continuation of the scheme has significantly diminished.
For further information you can download the Ram Genotyping Scheme booklet.
Ram Semen Archive
The Ram Semen Archive was established in 2004 on a UK wide basis, with the NI Archive being maintained independently of the GB model.
The Archive collected, stored and maintained semen from rams, with important breeding traits, that potentially could be genetically susceptible to Scrapie. It was designed to give breeders the confidence to continue breeding for Scrapie resistance, as populations of ‘lost’ genotypes could be reintroduced should the need ever arise.
However, during the time the Archives (GB and NI) have been operating there has been no scientific evidence to suggest that any particular breeding traits were lost through genotyping programmes and there has been no need to re-introduce stored susceptible genotypes into the sheep population. It was therefore concluded that there is no justifiable need to maintain the Archives for the purpose that they were originally intended.
In 2008, in GB, DEFRA passed responsibility for the GB Archive to the National Sheep Association and Rare Breeds Survival Trust, who currently maintain the archive.
In NI, DAERA offered the Archive to the National Sheep Association and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust; however they could not assume ownership due to the cost involved in maintaining the Archive. Following further consultation with sheep sector stakeholders it was concluded that the Northern Ireland Ram Semen Archive should be closed. The closure was completed on 27 October 2010.
Scrapie Monitored Flock Scheme (SMFS)
The Scrapie Monitored Flock Scheme (SMFS) was introduced in Northern Ireland in August 1993 to facilitate sheep and goat owners who wished to maintain a breeding flock or herd for intra-Community trade purposes.
Changes to EU TSE Regulations have resulted in the introduction of a two-tier system, which will take effect in NI from 1 January 2014. This requires flocks to be registered on the SMFS as having either Negligible Risk Status or Controlled Risk Status.
Participation in the scheme is voluntary but is a pre-requisite for anyone wishing to maintain a breeding flock or herd for intra-Community trade purposes, including trade with the South. It ensures that the sheep to be exported fully meet the export health requirements in respect of scrapie.
To apply to the scheme for:
Controlled risk status
All current SMFS members satisfy this requirement. There must be no evidence of classical scrapie within a flock for the 3 years prior to application. This facilitates the trade of sheep and goats for breeding with Member States (including the South) that do not have an approved national control programme in place for classical scrapie. Therefore, flocks that have been in existence for less than 3 years at the date of application will not be eligible to join the Controlled Risk Register. Flocks with Controlled Risk Status will be required to demonstrate an additional 4 years of freedom from scrapie to join the Negligible Risk Register.
Negligible risk status
There must be no evidence of classical scrapie within a flock for the 7 years prior to application, the flock must have satisfied the requirements of the Controlled Risk status for 4 years, and any sheep brought into the flock must satisfy the requirements for Negligible Risk status. Movement of sheep and goats for breeding and fattening to Member States with an approved national control programme in place for classical scrapie, currently Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden, can only take place from holdings with Negligible Risk Status (unless they are ARR/ARR Sheep - see DARD Information Note below for details).
Further information on changes to intra-Community trade regulations for breeding sheep and goats, fattening sheep and goats traded with Negligible Risk Member States, and their semen/embryos is available in a DARD Information Note.
The terms of the scheme, among other things, require members to have all animals in the flock clinically inspected annually by a Private Veterinary Practitioner for signs of scrapie. In addition an Animal Health and Welfare Inspector will carry out regular inspections to ensure that flock records are in order, all animals are accounted for, the premises are suitable, and appropriate biosecurity measures are being taken. From 1 January 2014, all successful new applications for or renewal of SMFS membership will be accorded either Negligible Risk Status or Controlled Risk Status by DARD in consultation with the flock owners.
From 1 January 2015, it will be necessary for flock owners to know their flock status for trade purposes.
The SMFS in Northern Ireland is operated on a full cost recovery basis, with members currently required to pay an initial registration fee and an annual membership renewal fee. From 1 April 2016 these fees will be £233.44 and £115.04 respectively.
If you are interested in becoming part of the scheme you can join by completing the application form below and having your veterinary practice complete the SC(NI)2 Veterinary Declaration.
Notified scrapie cases
Compensation is paid for all sheep notified to the Department as suspected of having scrapie.
Scrapie has been a notifiable disease since 1992 and, as a result, all suspect cases must be immediately reported to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Veterinary Service. Compensation is payable for all suspect animals notified to the Department and subsequently slaughtered. The relevant Northern Ireland legislation is the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010.
The compensation payable for a notified sheep is as follows:
- sheep at the end of its productive life (cull sheep), £30, whether the result is positive or negative
- all other sheep, £90, whether the result is positive or negative
- if the result is negative, enhanced compensation of up to £400 may be paid, provided that the owner can produce evidence to support a higher market value, subject to a maximum payable of £400
Please note: A suspect animal, which has died on-farm before the Department inspection, will be treated as a fallen animal and no compensation will be paid.
How many confirmed cases of scrapie in sheep have there been in Northern Ireland?
Between 2000 and 2014, a total of 56 sheep in 27 flocks have been confirmed with scrapie.
Compulsory Scrapie Flock Scheme (CSFS)
The Compulsory Scrapie Flock Scheme (CSFS) implements in Northern Ireland and Great Britain the EU requirements following confirmation of scrapie in a flock.
Confirmation of scrapie can arise from either notification of suspect cases or through the Department’s active TSE Surveillance programme. Under the CSFS two options are available for the Department – i.e. genotyping of the flock and selective culling of susceptible sheep or whole flock culling without genotyping.
The EU requirements were introduced in NI on 4 October 2004. Details are as follows:
- movement restrictions are placed on the flock for 2 years
- Department option of either genotyping of the whole flock and slaughter of scrapie susceptible sheep (i.e. all sheep except ARR/ARR rams and ARR/XXX ewes (except ARR/VRQ ewes) or total flock slaughter with or without genotyping. A DAERA Veterinary Officer will visit the farm premises and, following a veterinary assessment, will determine the most appropriate course of action as regards the affected flock
- restocking must only take place with the more resistant genotypes
- TSE surveillance testing is required for the 2-year period, after CSFS measures have been enacted, of all cull sheep and all fallen sheep over 18 months of age at time of death
Animal or Product
Compensation is payable for all sheep removed and slaughtered under the CSFS as follows (irrespective of which option is adopted). The rates of compensation applicable from 13 May 2006 are as follows -
- pure bred sheep or goats - Market value of animal
- ordinary male adult sheep or goats - £90
- ordinary female adult sheep or goats - £65
- ordinary sheep in lamb and ordinary goat in kid - £115
- ordinary lamb (under 12 months old) or ordinary kid (under 12 months old) - £50
- embryo - £150
- ovum - £5
“Ordinary” in relation to an animal means that it is not pure bred.
Full details on compensation provisions are contained in the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010 No. 406.
For further information on the Notified Scrapie Cases and the Compulsory Scrapie Flock Scheme, please contact us