No prion diseases found in German deer

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Presently, there is no evidence of prion diseases in free-living German cervids.

This is the result of a study conducted by scientists of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany. After six cases of scrapie in British moufflons, scientists will start a new study to test German moufflons for prion diseases.

The scientists examined more than 7,300 brain samples taken from cervids (roe deer, red deer and fallow deer) in nearly all districts of Germany. All of them tested negative for TSE. The abbreviation "TSE" stands for Transmissible Spongiform Enzephalopathies and summarizes a number of diseases which are caused by prions. The most well-known are the "mad-cow disease" BSE and scrapie, the latter afflicting sheep.

In the course of the BSE crisis in Great Britain, numerous cases of the human Creutzfeld Jacob Disease occurred. Thus, governments all over Europe are still concerned about food safety in connection with prion diseases. The German Ministry of Research and Education had funded the study on cervids, and now the Ministry for Agriculture is funding the new study on moufflons. Moufflons are wild sheep and thus susceptible to scrapie."In Great Britain, six cases in two separate flocks were documented ", says Kai Frolich of the IZW, who leads the TSE studies. This is one of the reasons for the moufflon study that will start in September. A further reason: Germany is the country with the second-largest moufflon population world-wide with approximately 18,000 fre-living individuals. 6,000 of the wild sheep are shot annually, yielding approximately 125,000 kilograms meat.

"As it was the case with cervids, our main concern is precaution", says Frolich. The IZW will co-operate with hunters and foresters to obtain tissue samples. "We can build on our successful co-operation in the cervid study", says Frolich. "Now we can continue working with a network of contacts." The researchers are particularly interested in heads of moufflons in order to examine brain tissue.

The aim of the study is to test moufflons all over Germany, special attention will be paid to 20 high-risk areas. Such an area is defined by a large number of free-living moufflons or by the occurrence of scrapie in local sheep. Roughly 140 cases of scrapie were reported in Germany since 1985.


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