Can scrapie in sheep cause disease in humans?

On March 20, 1996, British Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell rose in the House to inform colleagues that scientists had discovered a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD) in 10 victims, and that they could not rule out a link with consumption of beef from cattle with bovine spongiform encephalapthy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.

timmy.timeThe announcement of March 20, 1996 was the culmination of 15 years of mismanagement, political bravado and a gross underestimation of the public’s capacity to deal with risk.  More important than any of the several lessons to be drawn from the BSE fiasco was this: the risk of no-risk messages.  For 10 years the British government and leading scientific advisors insisted there was no risk — or that the risk was so infintesimly small that it could be said there was no risk — of BSE leading to a similar malady in humans, CJD, even in the face of contradictory evidence.  The no-risk message contributed to the devastating economic and social effects on Britons, a nation of beefeaters, the slaughter of over 1 million British cattle, and a decrease in global consumption of beef, especially in Japan, at a cost of billions of dollars.

Part of that logic stemmed from the apparent absence of zoonotic or human effects from the sheep transmissible spongiform Encephalopathy, scrapie, which had been know in the UK for hundreds of years.

mad.cows.mothers.milkEuropean researchers have now reviewed the available evidence.

The factors that modulate the transmissibility of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE) and the approaches for the study of their zoonotic potential are reviewed. The paper ‘Evidence for zoonotic potential of ovine scrapie prions’ by Cassard et al. (2014) is scientifically appraised, focussing on the experimental design, the results and the conclusions.

The paper provides evidence in a laboratory experiment that some Classical scrapie isolates can propagate in humanised transgenic mice and produce prions that on second passage are similar to those causing one form of sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD). It is concluded that the results from the study raise the possibility that scrapie prions have the potential to be zoonotic, but do not provide evidence that transmission can or does take place under field conditions.

The conclusions of the 2011 ECDC-EFSA ‘Joint Scientific Opinion on any possible epidemiological or molecular association between TSEs in animals and humans’ are reviewed in the light of the new scientific evidence available since its publication. This supports and strengthens the conclusions of that opinion with regard to the potential for some animal TSE to be zoonotic, but does not provide evidence of a causal link between Classical or Atypical scrapie and human TSE. Current evidence does not establish this link, and no consistent risk factors have been identified for sCJD.

The possibility of scrapie-related public health risks from the consumption of ovine products cannot be assessed. Recommendations are formulated on further studies and data that are needed to investigate the zoonotic potential of animal TSE and to estimate the amount of infectivity from TSE-infected products sourced from small ruminants and entering the food chain in the European Union.

Scientific Opinion on a request for a review of a scientific publication concerning the zoonotic potential of ovine scrapie prions

EFSA Journal 2015;13(8):4197 [58 pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2015.4197

EFSA Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ)

I want microbiologically safe, not ecologically clean food

Maybe something is lost in translation but according to the Bulgarian sheep-breeders association is telling folks not to eat raw meat or drink raw milk due to anthrax and brucellosis risks.

Biser Chilingirov, chairperson of Bulgaria’s National Sheep-breeding Association urged stock-breeders and farmers to wear wire mesh gloves when butchering animals to prevent themselves for getting cuts.shaun_the_sheep_wallpaper_border

Biser Chilingirov told people to purchase products directly from farms as they were “ecologically clean”. 

Not sure what that means but I’d like to see some data.

Book of Mormon? Utah restaurant closed for slaughtering sheep on site

The Salt Lake County Health Department closed down a Middle Eastern restaurant on Thursday after inspectors found sheep being slaughtered in the back parking lot and goats and dogs being cared for on the premises.

Middle Eastern Pastries and Deli, 3336 S. Main, Salt Lake CityThe Middle Eastern Pastries and Deli, 3336 S. Main, Salt Lake City, was cited for 47 violations in all, creating an “imminent health hazard,” according to a report on the department website.

Among the most egregious health violations found by inspectors:

  • Live sheep are being stored and slaughtered onsite in the back parking lot.
  • A plastic bag with sheep limbs and a sheep head found in the back area.
  • Live goats and dogs being cared for on the premises and the handwashing sink blocked and not being used.
  • Kitchen is in a garage and the door is open and the kitchen is not protected from contamination.
  • Food is not separated from car oil and maintenance tools in the back lot.
  • Clean dishes are being dried and stored in the mop sink because the drain boards are not big enough to accommodate clean and dirty dishes.
  • Chicken is thawing in stagnant water outside unprotected in the back lot of the establishment.
  • A chemical spray bottle is stored above a food preparation area.
  • Raw meat is stored above ready-to-eat foods in the walk-in cooler.

Australia: stolen cattle gallstones and upsetting sheep with foul language

Australia can be a weird place.

johnny_depp_71911A collection of cattle gallstones, which are used in Chinese herbal medicine at $20,000 per kilogram, began disappearing over the last six months from a slaughterhouse at Oakey, west of Toowoomba.

The Toowoomba Stock and Rural Crime Investigation Squad this week raided a property at Cranley and a 38-year-old man was charged.

He will appear in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court on June 23.

Acting detective senior sergeant Brendan Murphy said police had to act fast because the small gallstones are easy to dispose of.

South of Queensland in the state of New South Wales, animal activists reported shearers at a NSW property for abuse because they were upsetting the herd with abusive language.

While the case has been dropped, the issue came up at a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday with Nationals senator John Williams demanding to know if department officials had received any formal complaints – from the sheep themselves.

“Not yet senator,” policy official Fran Freeman said.

Oh Aggies: student had sex with sheep ‘because he was stressed about his exams’

From the university integrity files, a student had sex with a sheep because he was stressed about his exams, he told police.

The 23-year-old computer engineering major was caught with a ewe in a barn on his California university campus.

A passing student heard noises coming from the agricultural department barn at 3.30am on Tuesday.

Fresno State caretakers said the sheep was being treated by a local vet, ABC7 reported.

Student Marisa Burkdoll, who helps care for the campus horses, said the incident was “sick”.

“It’s just kind of disgusting and revolting and personally makes me angry,” she said. “I mean why would you do that?”

The student responsible was charged with sexual assault of an animal at Fresno County Jail, and has since been released.

He told the authorities he had been drinking, and was worried about his midterm exams.


Who steals sheep? New Zealanders

Cunning sheep rustlers have captured and presumably butchered 30 pregnant ewes from a park on the fringes of central Auckland that is well known for its daffodils and lambs.

Cornwall Park.nzjpeg“It’s disgusting behaviour,” the park’s farm manager Peter Maxwell said on Tuesday after returning from a flock headcount.

“Thirty ewes have gone missing in the past month, all pregnant, some carrying two or even three lambs.

“To think that there are people out there targeting these animals, rounding them up and presumably killing them for food, is very distressing.”

Police are working with Cornwall Park management after a series of incidents over the past few weeks during which sheep rustlers have used dogs and traps to round up and capture sheep after dark.

Last Wednesday passers-by disturbed three men and three large dogs capturing newborn lambs.

“One of the dogs was standing on a lamb and the men were working to round up the sheep,” Mr Maxwell said.

“This is difficult work so it’s obviously highly planned.”

Sheep as an important source of E. coli O157:H7 in Turkey

Escherichia coli O157:H7 is a globally important foodborne pathogen and has been mainly associated with cattle as the reservoir. However, accumulating data shows the importance of sheep as an E. coli O157:H7 vehicle.

sheep.shit.aug.12The presence of E. coli O157/O157:H7 in recto-anal mucosal swap and carcass sponge samples of 100 sheep brought to the slaughterhouse in Kirikkale were analyzed over a year. Molecular characteristics (stx1, stx2, eaeA, hly, lpfA1-3, espA, eae-α1, eae-α2, eae-β, eae-β1, eae-β2, eae-γ1, eae-γ2/θ, stx1c, stx1d, stx2c, stx2d, stx2e, stx2f, stx2g, blaampC, tet(A), tet(B), tet(C), tet(D), tet(E), tet(G), sul1, sul2, floR, cmlA, strA, strB and aadA) of 79 isolates were determined and minimum inhibitory concentrations of 20 different antibiotics were investigated. E. coli O157/O157:H7 was found in 18% of sheep included in the study and was more prevalent in yearlings than lambs and mature sheep, and male than female sheep, though none of the categories (season, sex or age range) had significant effect on prevalence. Furthermore, Shiga-toxigenic E. coli (STEC) O157:H7 was determined in 2% and 8% of sheep feces and carcasses, respectively. Additionally, lpfA1-3 and eae-γ1 were detected in all isolates. None of the isolates showed resistance against investigated antibiotics, even though 4 sorbitol fermenting E. coli O157 isolates were positive for tet(A), sul1 and aadA. This is the first study in Turkey that reveals the potential public health risk due to the contamination of sheep carcasses with potentially highly pathogenic STEC O157:H7 strains.

Yilmaz Emre Gencay

Occurrence of potentially human-pathogenic Escherichia coli O103 in Norwegian sheep

The investigation of an outbreak of hemorrhagic uremic syndrome in Norway in 2006 indicated that the outbreak strain Escherichia coli O103:H25 could originate from sheep. A national survey of the Norwegian sheep population was performed, with the aim of identifying and describing a possible reservoir of potentially human-pathogenic E. coli O103, in particular of the H-types H2 and H25. The investigation of fecal samples from run_sheep_run585 sheep flocks resulted in 1222 E. coli O103 isolates that were analyzed for the presence of eae and stx genes, while a subset of 369 isolates was further examined for flagellar antigens (H-typing), stxsubtypes, bfpA and astA, and molecular typing by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE).

The total ovine E. coli O103 serogroup was genetically diverse by number of H-types, virulotypes and PFGE banding patterns identified, although a tendency of clustering towards serotypes was seen. The flocks positive for potentially human-pathogenic E. coli O103 were geographically widely distributed and no association could be found to county or geographical region.

The survey showed that eae- stx- E. coli O103, probably non-pathogenic to humans, is very common in sheep with 27.5% positive flocks. Moreover, the study documented a low prevalence (0.7%) of potentially human-pathogenic Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O103:H2, while STEC O103:H25 was not detected. However, 3.1% and 5.8% of the flocks were positive for Enteropathogenic E. coliO103 belonging to H-type H2 and H25, respectively. These are of concern as potentially human pathogens by themselves, but more important as possible precursors for human-pathogenic STEC.

Camilla Sekse, Marianne Sunde, Petter Hopp, Torkjel Bruheim, Kofitsyo Sewornu Cudjoe, Bjorg Kvitle, Anne Margrete Urdahl

Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 27 September 2013

Scrapie sheep kidnappers say infected flock in protective custody

PC may be politically correct, but in jail it means protective custody, not much better than the hole.

Two days after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed scrapie in a recently deceased sheep from a quarantined flock in Eastern Ontario, and a month after CFIA was scheduled to confiscate the Shropshire sheep, the previously unknown group Farmers’ Peace Corps kidnapped the 31 sheep slated for slaughter, leaving a note that read:

“We have taken the animals into protective custody until an alternative to killing has been found, or conclusive independent proof or clear evidence of disease has been proven. This has been done without the knowledge or participation of the owner.”

What say the people’s front now that scrapie has been confirmed? Not independent? Testing for scrapie or other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies isn’t something that can be done in a basement, like genetic engineering.

The Globe and Mail reports that on Friday, CFIA notified Ms. Jones that an autopsy showed a sheep that died at the end of March on the farm was infected with scrapie.

Montana Jones, the owner, said, “I don’t believe Lava (the name of the sheep) was actually infected. They just needed a sheep to pin it on. I just want whoever has my flock to bring it back to me and then everybody leave me alone.”

CFIA said in its positive test announcement that Canada’s approach to confirmed or suspected cases of scrapie is based on internationally accepted science and seeks to minimize disruptions to producers.

The missing sheep pose a serious risk for scrapie and could spread the disease to other sheep and goats. Any premises that receive them will be subject to a quarantine and further regulatory action.

Quarantine breaches put the livestock industry and the economy at risk. Any person who breaches a quarantine may be subject to criminal prosecution under the Health of Animals Act.

On the run: sheep suspected with scrapie missing in Canada

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is working with provincial police to locate sheep that have been removed from a farm currently under a quarantine order. The sheep were quarantined as part of an ongoing scrapie investigation at a farm in Eastern Ontario.

"The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is committed to protecting livestock health, and takes the management of animal diseases very seriously," said Dr. Brian Evans, Chief Veterinary Officer for Canada. "While we recognize that disease control activities can be difficult on producers, the eradication of animal diseases, such as scrapie, is critical to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the sheep industry."

The sheep are suspected of having scrapie, a fatal disease that affects sheep and goats. While there is no human health risk associated with scrapie, it has serious impacts on sheep and the CFIA aims to eradicate it from Canada. Canada’s approach to confirmed or suspected cases of scrapie is based on internationally accepted science and seeks to minimize disruptions to producers.

Quarantine breaches may put the livestock industry and the economy at risk. Any person who breaches a quarantine may be subject to criminal prosecution under the Health of Animals Act.

Because these animals may pose a risk for scrapie, premises that receive them may be subject to a quarantine and further regulatory action.

"Our organization supports the eradication of scrapie," said Dr. Paula Menzies, representing the Small Ruminant Veterinarians of Ontario. "Although we sympathize with owners of affected flocks, Canada must deal effectively with this disease."