New infectious disease hits Czech agriculture

Last week the first case of sheep scrapie surfaced on a farm in east Bohemia. Scrapie belongs to a family of related diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies of which BSE or mad cow disease is also a member. In fact, sheep scrapie is thought to be the origin of BSE. BSE in turn is believed to manifest in humans as an infectious brain wasting disease known as New Variant Creutztfeldt- Jakob Disease. Radio Prague's Nicole Klement has more.

Scrapie is an infectious disease in sheep which causes acute itching, it also affects the central nervous system of cattle and, what is most worrying, it is believed to cause New Variant Creutztfeldt- Jakob Disease in humans. But, Hugo Roldan the spokesman for the Czech Agriculture Ministry says people have nothing to worry about.

"Let me tell you some facts about this disease. It's a disease that is infectious but only among sheep. It is not as contagious as BSE is in the case of cattle and the most important thing is that scrapie is not contagious for human beings."

Though humans cannot be directly infected with scrapie, the disease is indirectly associated with BSE which is believed to be the cause of Creutztfeldt- Jakob disease. So how does the Agriculture Ministry plan to deal with scrapie?

"The Department of Agriculture has taken some preventive measures. The minister of agriculture, Mr. Jan Fencl, decided yesterday to isolate the infected herd. Other measure taken are that any flocks to which contaminated sheep where transported to during the last two years are going to be checked by veterinary inspectors at least every three months. "

The Czech Central Infection Commission has recommended that just infected sheep be killed - not the whole flock. The Czech Agriculture Ministry agrees. Only two sheep have been slaughtered to date - the affected sheep and its offspring. The Ministry has further plans to test all animals older than 12 months as well as all slaughtered sheep older than 18 months. The cost of the tests will be covered by the state and according to Mr. Roldan it will not be such an expensive process.

"It is really hard to say how much money the tests will cost. But, in any case we do not think that it will be an astronomic amount of money. On the other hand we really think that the measures taken, to test the herds every three months, will be enough to prevent the spread of the disease."

That was Mr. Roldan, speaking on behalf of the Czech Ministry of Agriculture.

Author: Nicole Klement
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