Oregon Public Broadcasting

The euthanizing of 300 sheep from a Roseburg ranch shows health officials are vigilant about stopping a livestock disease from spreading, the Oregon state veterinarian said Thursday.

Sheep growers, though, say they received too little information about the state's first case of scrapie since 2008.

"There's an awful lot of rumors going around. It seems like it would be appropriate to get as much information out about scrapie as possible, because it impacts the market for all of us," said Oregon Sheep Growers Association President John Fine, a Dixonville rancher.

State Veterinarian Brad LeaMaster said Thursday the 300 sheep were from a ranch east of Roseburg, though he declined to identify the rancher.

One animal tested positive for scrapie, a fatal brain disease in sheep and goats comparable to mad cow disease, and the sheep were euthanized as a precaution, LeaMaster said.

"It's not an outbreak. It's one sheep," he said. "It's not a threat to public safety. It's certainly not a food safety issue."

For the past 10 years in Oregon, the state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have worked together on a scrapie eradication campaign, said Lyndsay Cole, spokeswoman for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

She said the affected Douglas County sheep was identified through a routine sampling of animals at a slaughter plant. Blood tests were taken on the rest of the flock, and the sheep identified as genetically susceptible to scrapie were euthanized.

"None of the meat from any of the animals that were depopulated will enter the food chain," Cole said.

LeaMaster said the positive test for scrapie came back in late August, but the federal shutdown in October delayed informing the public.

Scrapie has never been known to transfer to people, and it's not highly contagious, according to a USDA fact sheet.

The disease is thought to most commonly spread from ewe to offspring and to other lambs that come in contact with the placenta.

Early signs of scrapie include the diseased animal scratching or rubbing against objects, like a fence post.

The USDA began an eradication campaign a decade ago, hoping to prevent the economic damage suffered by the beef industry because of mad cow disease.

This summer's case of scrapie was Oregon's third since 2005.

In the past year, the USDA has recorded 18 sheep with scrapie in the U.S., including the one in Douglas County. LeaMaster said testing a live sheep for the disease remains impractical.

With about 22,800 ewes valued at roughly $2.6 million, Douglas County is Oregon's second-largest sheep-producing county. The local sheep population can more than double between December and March, when lambs are born. The American Sheep Industry estimates that every 1,000 head of sheep is responsible for 18 full- or part-time jobs.

Dixonville rancher Rancher Jamie Pynch, whose family keeps about 250 head of sheep, said he's heard talk of scrapie showing up.

"It kind of makes you nervous," he said. "It's the kind of thing you don't ever think is going to happen to you."

- You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at gandrews@nrtoday.com.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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