Population dynamics of scrapie in a sheep flock.
Woolhouse ME., Matthews L., Coen P., Stringer SM., Foster JD., Hunter N.
A detailed analysis of an outbreak of natural scrapie in a flock of Cheviot sheep is described. A total of 137 cases was reported over 13 years among 1307 sheep born into the flock. The epidemiology of scrapie can only be understood with reference to sheep demography, the population genetics of susceptibility to scrapie, pathogenesis during a long incubation period, and the rate of transmission (by both vertical and horizontal routes), all of which interact in complex ways. A mathematical model incorporating these features is described, parameter values and model inputs are derived from available information from the flock and from independent sources, and model outputs are compared with the field data. The model is able to reproduce key features of the outbreak, including its long duration and the ages of cases. The analysis supports earlier work suggesting that many infected sheep do not survive to show clinical signs, that most cases arise through horizontal transmission, and that there is strong selection against susceptible genotypes. However, important aspects of scrapie epidemiology remain poorly understood, including the possible role of carrier genotypes and of an environmental reservoir of infectivity, and the mechanisms maintaining alleles giving susceptibility to scrapie in the sheep population.