University of Wisconsin–Madison

Sicily: Sheep & Goat Survey

Vincenzo Di Marco Lo Presti and 11 colleagues from Italy, Ireland, and the UK reported results of their large-scale survey of sheep flocks and goat herds (48,643 animals in 439 flocks or herds) in Sicily for evidence of MAP infections using a commercial ELISA kit. Their findings were reported in the February issue of Frontiers in Veterinary Science (Open Access).

Location and number of herds and flocks tested in Sicily (from publication).


Introduction: Paratuberculosis (PTB) is a worldwide chronic, contagious enteric disease caused by Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP) mainly affecting ruminant species. PTB is a WOAH-listed disease with direct and indirect economic losses in the livestock sector, negative impact on animal welfare and significant public health concerns. In spite of this, MAP prevalence in small ruminants is still unknown and the prevalence appears to be underestimated in many countries. The aim of this study is providing a first large-scale serological survey on MAP infection in small ruminants in Sicily, a region of Southern Italy with the 11.3 and 8.9% Italian national heritage of sheep and goats, respectively.

Sicilian landscape with flock of sheep in the foreground and the active volcano, Etna, in the background.

Methods: For this purpose, we analyzed a total of 48,643 animals reared in 439 flocks throughout Sicily. MAP seroprevalence was estimated both at herd-level and animal-level within breeds reared in all the nine sampled provinces.

Results: Our results revealed a high overall apparent prevalence at herd-level of 71.8% in sheep and 60.8% in goat farms with an animal-level prevalence of 4.5 and 5.1% in sheep and goats, respectively. Significant statistical differences were found between the provinces and within the breeds both in sheep and goats.

Discussion: Our study provides the first large-scale serological survey on PTB infection in small ruminants in Sicily and showed a high prevalence of disease depending on the species, breed and province. This study represents the first step to better understand the MAP epidemiology in a typical Mediterranean breeding context, suggesting the need of in-depth study on the herds risk factors, including the eventual presence of candidate genes for resistance/susceptibility to PTB in native breeds.

Girgentana goats.


This large, well-designed and analyzed serological survey confirms what many similar, but smaller, studies have shown: MAP infections are common in sheep and goat populations worldwide. MAP infections threaten valuable breeding stock, such as the Girgentana goats and Barbaresca Siciliana sheep, and local wildlife. Meat and milk products made from MAP-infected animals can be contaminated with live MAP which are resistant to food manufacturing practices and pose a probable health risk for humans. Much more effort and investment are required to control this prevalent infection globally.

This website has much more information specifically about Johne’s disease in goats and sheep  – – just a click away.