A centuries-long epidemic of scrapie in British sheep?

Woolhouse, M.E.J., Coen, P., Matthews, L. , Foster, J.D., Elsen, J.-M., Lewis, R.M., Haydon, D.T. and Hunter, N. (2001) A centuries-long epidemic of scrapie in British sheep? Trends in Microbiology, 9(2), pp. 67-70. (doi: 10.1016/S0966-842X(00)01912-0)

Full text not currently available from Enlighten.


The apparent persistence of scrapie in British sheep for more than 250 years is difficult to explain. Susceptibility to scrapie is associated with particular alleles at a single locus, the PrP gene. As the only known effect of these alleles is to confer susceptibility to a fatal disease, natural selection is expected to reduce their frequency, as has been observed in practice during scrapie outbreaks in single sheep flocks. Susceptibility alleles, and hence scrapie itself, are therefore expected to become rare, yet the disease remains widespread. We suggest that the paradox of scrapie's persistence can be explained by the exceptionally long time-scales inherent in the epidemiology of the disease. It is proposed that scrapie should be regarded as epidemic in British sheep but, unlike more familiar epidemics, which have time-scales of months or years, the scrapie epidemic has a time-scale of centuries. This interpretation implies that scrapie should eventually disappear from the sheep population.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Haydon, Professor Daniel and Matthews, Professor Louise
Authors: Woolhouse, M.E.J., Coen, P., Matthews, L., Foster, J.D., Elsen, J.-M., Lewis, R.M., Haydon, D.T., and Hunter, N.
Subjects:Q Science > QL Zoology
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Biodiversity, One Health & Veterinary Medicine
Journal Name:Trends in Microbiology
ISSN (Online):1878-4380

University Staff: Request a correction | Enlighten Editors: Update this record