SEFARI Blog: A Test is Best: A New Sheep Scab Blood Test Helps Control Disease on the Isle of Mull & Iona

Stewart Burgess, Alasdair Nisbet and Giles Innocent

Sheep scab is a highly contagious disease caused by infestation with the mite Psoroptes ovis. It is endemic in the UK, notifiable in Scotland(link is external) and has significant economic and welfare impacts. Diagnosis has historically been achieved through observation of clinical signs, e.g. itching, wool loss and the detection of mites in skin scrapings. However, early stages of scab are difficult to diagnose and those animals where symptoms are not yet definitive or readily observable i.e. sub-clinical are a major factor in disease spread. SEFARI scientists have developed a blood test, which can detect scab even in sub-clinical cases. To demonstrate how the test could work in a local control programme, they undertook a two year study testing for scab on the Isles of Mull and Iona. This involved testing as many flocks as possible across the islands to determine the level of scab, treating it where they found it and then keeping the island free from incoming disease by testing incoming/returning animals.

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