Numbers of scrapie cases fall on the back of control measures

The numbers of reported scrapie cases have fallen significantly in recent years, according to latest figures from the Department of Agriculture.

Ireland implements surveillance and control measures in relation to BSE in bovines and scrapie in sheep in accordance with the terms of EU Regulations.

These measures include the testing of 20,000 sheep over the age of 18 months for the presence of scrapie each year.

Tests are carried out on 10,000 fallen (knackery) animals and 10,000 animals slaughtered for human consumption, according to the Department.

It says control measures in Ireland have been effective as evidenced by a decreasing trend in the number of classical cases, with just one in 2015 and one to date this year.

In cases of classical scrapie, the Department says genotyping of the flock and depopulation of sheep most susceptible to the disease is practised.


All animals in the flock found to have reduced resistance to scrapie are removed for destruction outside the food chain and compensation at market value is paid to the flock owner.

A top up payment of €84 is also made to the flock owner for each breeding ewe destroyed, to take account of loss of future income. This is paid when all affected sheep have left the holding and are destroyed.

What is scrapie?

Scrapie is an important disease of sheep and goats. It is a “Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy” (TSE). A cautious approach must be taken to TSEs in all species following links between BSE in cattle and new variant CJD in humans.

Small numbers of sheep or goats may have been exposed to BSE contaminated meat and bone meal during the BSE epidemic. Infection of a sheep or goat with the disease might mask infection with BSE because sheep experimentally infected with BSE are difficult to distinguish from those infected with Scrapie.

Scrapie has been experimentally transmitted to species other than sheep or goats. There is no
evidence that Scrapie transmits to humans.

Clinical Signs of Scrapie

Clinical signs of the disease are most common in 3 to 4 year old sheep but may be evident from 12 months of age.

Typical Clinical Signs will include some or all of the following: –

Changes in behaviour that may include: – Lagging Behind the Flock; Refusal to be Gathered/Driven; Increased Nervousness/Hypersensitivity; Fear Response; Resenting Handling; Restless Grazing or
Feeding; Drooping of Ears; Teeth Grinding; Depression or Vacant stare.

Changes in posture and movement that may include: – Stumbling; High Stepping; Head Trembling; Weak Hind Legs; Crouching/Wide Based Stance; Inability to Stand.

Skin Irritation that may include: – Localised Wool Loss or Signs of Rubbing; Rubbing of Hindquarters; Rubbing of the Poll; Rubbing of Flanks; Scratching at the Flank Area; Damage to the Skin; Nibbling; Scratch Reflex-Nibbling; Scratching of the Shoulder or Ear.

Chronic weight loss

Later signs of disease that may include: – Inappetance; Recumbency; Convulsions.