A randomised sample of 2809 apparently healthy sheep, 55 per cent of them less than 15 months of age, which were slaughtered for human consumption at abattoirs in Great Britain in 1997/98, was taken to establish the prevalence of scrapie infection. The medulla oblongata of each sheep was examined histopathologically at the level of the obex, and fresh brain tissue was examined for scrapie-associated fibrils (SAF) to establish whether there was evidence of scrapie. In addition, histological sections of the medulla from 500 of the sheep were immunostained with an antiserum to PrR and the same technique was also applied to any animal found positive or inconclusive by the histological or SAF examinations. Any sheep which was positive by any of these diagnostic methods was also examined by Western immunoblotting, for the detection of the disease-specific protein PrPsc. A total of 2798 sheep (99.6 per cent) were negative by all the methods applied. Ten animals were SAF-positive but negative by all the other methods, and in one animal there was immunohistochemical staining which could not be interpreted unequivocally as diseasespecific. A mathematical model was used to estimate the prevalence of scrapie infection in the national slaughtered sheep population which would be consistent with these results. By this model, the absence of unequivocally substantiated cases of scrapie in the sample was consistent with a prevalence of infection in the slaughter population of up to 11 per cent.
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