A group of veterinary practices within the XLVets community have got together to carry out a study into sheep scab and encourage greater transparency, after fears that some farmers may try to keep the condition hidden. 

Caused by the mite Psoroptes ovis, sheep scab was notifiable in the UK until 1992, after which a voluntary reporting scheme was put in place in England and Wales. Sheep scab was made notifiable again in Scotland in 2010.

The study was suggested by Emily Gascoigne MRCVS of Synergy Vets, who noticed that hers was one of the few practices that appeared to be voluntarily reporting cases in England.

She said: "It’s been observed that that farmers can feel ‘judged’ when sheep scab appears in their flock and the impulse to keep it hidden may hold back efforts to control it.

“The results will help to quantify the problem but we are also tackling the other side of the coin by trying to make sheep scab less of a taboo. The potential for contiguous infection from one farm to the other means that forewarned is forearmed.

"Farmers often blame themselves when their sheep get scab which although it can result from a failure of biosecurity at boundaries or during quarantine, can also be brought in on people, deliveries or equipment. Then there are real worries about whether that will affect the saleability of their stock or their relationship with their farming neighbours. We want to encourage vets and farmers to start the conversation and to start actively testing for sheep scab.”

Around 40 practices within the XLVets community are now taking part in the study. In addition to contributing to the survey, participating practices will also be sharing information with farmers about the importance of testing for sheep scab.

The initiative is being supported by Bimeda UK, which provides an online Sheep Scab Academy to help veterinary surgeons and SQPs stay up to date with best practice for sheep scab control. Bimeda UK’s Professional Services Vet Sharon Cooksey, said: "Bimeda has worked for many years to raise awareness and promote best practice in managing this awful disease, including supporting the launch and ongoing operation of the Biobest ELISA test, so this is an initiative we are happy to support.”

The survey has been running since the start of October and will continue for the next five months, with results expected around March 2021. 

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