CFIA calls for sheep, goats for scrapie testing

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is urging sheep and goat producers to submit suspicious cases for scrapie testing as the number of confirmed cases in Canada is up to a level not seen since 2003.

While the final count for 2010 isn’t yet available, 11 sheep flocks were confirmed to have seen cases of the reportable disease as of Nov. 30, up from six in all of 2009.

Of the 11, six were in flocks in Quebec, two in Alberta, two in Ontario and one in Saskatchewan. Of those, the Saskatchewan case and one in Ontario were found to be “atypical” scrapie.

The CFIA didn’t refer to those numbers in its release Friday calling for continued co-operation from sheep and goat producers.

“Scrapie surveillance is a shared responsibility, with both private and public benefits,” Dr. Brian Evans, the federal government’s chief veterinary officer, said in the release. “Sheep and goat producers, veterinarians and governments all play an important role in our collective efforts to eliminate scrapie from Canada.”

CFIA said it would like to test any mature animals (12 months and older) that die on the farm or show unexplained weight loss, problems standing or walking, or changes in behaviour.

Producers can call the CFIA at 800-442-2342 to arrange to have a sample taken for testing. The agency noted it covers the costs of testing samples under the surveillance program, and that producers could also be eligible for compensation for animals ordered destroyed due to a scrapie diagnosis.

The goal of the scrapie surveillance program is to identify infected animals, so “proper steps” can be taken to eliminate scrapie in this country, the agency said.

CFIA noted it’s also collecting samples at auction markets, animal health labs, deadstock facilities and slaughter plants.

In its tests for scrapie since 1984, CFIA’s counts of flocks confirmed with the disease peaked at 31 in 1998. The count sat at 12 in 2003, one in 2004 and six in each of 2008 and 2009.

Scrapie, which affects the central nervous system of sheep and goats, is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle, chronic wasting disease in deer and elk or Creutzfelt-Jakob disease in humans.

The disease is fatal in infected animals but is not considered highly contagious. Healthy animals have been known to pick up the disease from the birthing fluids and placenta of infected animals in lambing pens.

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