Sheep and Goat Pox - Fact Sheet

What are sheep and goat pox?

Sheep pox and goat pox (SGP) are a group of viruses that cause highly infectious disease in sheep and goats. There is a high mortality rate in susceptible populations of sheep and goats.

SGP viruses are usually species specific; however, strains do exist that can infect both sheep and goats. Merino and European breeds of sheep are more susceptible to sheep pox virus than other breeds.

Goat breeds also vary in susceptibility to goat pox virus, with breeds that are not normally exposed to the virus being more severely affected.

SGP viruses can replicate in cattle, but do not cause any clinical signs.

Is SGP a risk to human health?

No. SGP does not pose a risk to human health.

What are the clinical signs of SGP?

SGP varies from mild to severe cases and the course of the disease is similar in both sheep and goats. Initial signs include:

  • depression;
  • discharge from the nose and eyes;
  • excess salivation;
  • fever;
  • loss of appetite; and
  • reluctance to move.

Within a few days, red blister-like lesions that exude pus develop on the skin. These are most obvious in areas where the hair is shortest, such as the mouth, ears, genitals, udder, nostrils and eyelids. Lesions also develop in the gastrointestinal tract, trachea and lungs. Over a period of two weeks, the skin lesions change to white nodules and eventually scab. They heal slowly and leave scars.

Death may result at any stage of the disease, but peak mortality usually occurs about two weeks after the development of lesions. Mortality can be as high as 50 per cent in adults and 100 per cent in young animals.

Where are SGP found?

SGP viruses are endemic in North Africa, the Middle East, central Asia (including southern Russia and western China) and the Indian subcontinent. Outbreaks have occurred in southern Europe (Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria).

SGP has never been found in Canada.

How are SGP transmitted and spread?

These viruses are spread mainly through direct contact between animals and the inhalation of aerosolized particles containing the virus. Infected animals shed the virus in all secretions and excretions as well as in scabs from skin lesions.

Transmission often occurs when animals are herded together at watering places, yards and markets. Contamination of such sites is significant in the spread of the disease because the virus is relatively resistant and can persist in the environment. Disease is spread to new areas mainly through the movement of infected animals.

How is SGP diagnosed?

SGP viruses are suspected based on the above clinical signs. Laboratory tests to isolate and identify the virus are necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

How is SGP treated?

There are no specific treatments for SGP diseases. Numerous vaccines, manufactured from weakened strains of the virus, exist in endemic countries.

What is done to protect Canadian livestock from SGP?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) imposes strict regulations on the import of animals and animal products from countries where SGP is known to occur. These regulations are enforced through port-of-entry inspections done either by the Canada Border Services Agency or the CFIA.

SGP is a "reportable disease" under the Health of Animals Act. This means that all suspected cases must be reported to the CFIA for immediate investigation by inspectors.

How would the CFIA respond to an outbreak of SGP in Canada?

Canada's emergency response strategy to an outbreak of SGP would be to:

  • eradicate the disease; and
  • re-establish Canada's disease-free status as quickly as possible.

In an effort to eradicate SGP, the CFIA would use its "stamping out" policy, which includes:

  • humane destruction of all infected and exposed animals;
  • surveillance and tracing of potentially infected or exposed animals;
  • quarantine and animal movement controls to prevent spread;
  • decontamination of infected premises; and
  • zoning to define infected and disease-free areas.

Owners whose animals are ordered destroyed may be eligible for compensation.

Additional information

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