Nearly 130 Icelandic sheep carry genes that protect them from scrapie, a transmissible neurodegenerative disease similar to the more infamous mad cow disease.
Two genotypes, ARR and T137, are thought to give sheep some protection from scrapie. Animals with either of these genes should be bred quickly to build up resistance in the population, so the disease can eventually be eradicated, according to Bændablaðið.
Until this point, culling has been the only way of curbing the spread of scrapie among sheep in Iceland, causing financial and emotional damage to farmers and society. More than 620 towns have had to participate in some sort of culling, Bændablaðið reports.
Scrapie is a chronic, deadly, and incurable sheep infectious disease that causes degeneration of the brain and spinal cord. The disease can lead to the death of an infected sheep within weeks. Symptoms include severe skin itching, nervousness, tremors, and paralysis.
Scientific evidence is inconclusive as to whether scrapie can be transmitted to humans. Some studies have found that the disease has the potential to transmit to humans, though there are no known instances of this occurring.
Unlike scrapie, mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE) has been known to transmit to humans, most likely through consuming contaminated cow meat. In the 1980s and 1990s, outbreaks of mad cow disease in the United Kingdom were linked to variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in humans. Symptoms the human disease include tremors and numbness in the limbs, visual impairment, memory loss, personality changes, nervousness, dementia, paralysis, and eventually death.
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