Infected fox sparks sheep measles alert

Kate PollardCountryman

A fox infected with the sheep measles tapeworm Taenia ovis has been found in Katanning.

Parasite researcher David Jenkins, from Charles Sturt University, has been examining the intestines of foxes across the country to see if sheep measles can be carried and spread by wild dogs and foxes.

"This is the second fox that we have found. The first one was from Jugiong, in New South Wales," Dr Jenkins said.

"It's not a big sample size but we have, for the first time, foxes infected with the sheep measles tapeworm which strongly indicates we have a wildlife transmission pattern on both sides of the continent."

Sheep measles are found in the muscles of sheep and can be also transmitted by dogs.

It's not a public health risk, but can result in carcases being downgraded or condemned and impact on lamb and mutton export markets.

Along with a Bachelor of Animal Science honours student, Dr Jenkins has almost finished examining the DNA and intestines of 256 foxes from WA, collected through the Red Card for Red Fox program in York, Williams, Quairading, Boddington and Nyabing, and including 102 foxes from Katanning.

Dr Jenkins said findings revealed about 20 per cent of the foxes had sheep wool in their stomachs and it mostly looked like lamb wool.

He said even though the incidence was about a one per cent infection rate, it was still high because of the high number of foxes around.

"Foxes may very well be the key to the high levels of infection that we see in slaughtered sheep in the sheep health monitoring program in WA and NSW," he said.

While farmers still need to treat their dogs for worms, Dr Jenkins said the findings gave reason for introducing a sheep measles vaccine that was developed more than 20 years ago in Australia.

But to be commercialised, the vaccine needs to go through regulatory approval including controlled studies which could take up to three years. "If we could have something out there like this, we could stop sheep measles in its tracks," Dr Jenkins said.

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