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Veterinary Bodies on Alert over New Virus

06 February 2012

ANALYSIS - The discovery of Schmallenberg Virus in Northern Europe is a cause for concern and heighten vigilance for cattle and sheep producers.

Although it is mainly a disease that is now being detected in sheep, because of the congenital defects that are being seen at lambing time along with aborted lambs, the disease has also been found in cattle in Belgium.

The virus is believed to have been spread through midges that have spread through northern Europe and across the English Channel to the UK. Similarities have been drawn between teh spread of this virus and bluetongue.

The British Veterinary Association says that the virus is understood to be vector-borne (although other routes of transmission have not been ruled out) and the clinical signs seen along with meteorological modelling of risk suggests that farms were affected during summer/autumn 2011.

Congenital deformities and nervous defects are being seen in newborn lambs, goat kids and calves. Clinical signs in affected cattle include pyrexia (fever), milk drop, and diarrhoea similar to what is often termed 'winter dysentery'.

Farmers should be looking out for clusters of these signs within herds and flocks and reporting them to their veterinary surgeon and vets are being warned to look out for the signs to report the cases to the relevant authorities.

The concerns among the farming community are that the disease is only now becoming apparent and the infection was spread last year and now it is too late for any preventative measures that could have been taken then to be put into place.

The advice is to maintain good hygiene practice during the lambing season and to send carcases for testing if cases do occur. However, there is at present no vaccine against the virus and none seems to be imminent although the authorities are backing research.

Kim Matthews from the English Beef and Lamb executive said that vigilance and scrupulous biosecurity measures are important at this time and although research is taking place into the possibility of vaccines at the Institute for Animal Health, it is only in the early stages and any potential vaccine against the virus will take time to develop.

Carl Padgett, President of the British Veterinary Association, said: "The confirmation of Schmallenberg virus in sheep flocks in England is a reminder to vets and farmers across the UK to step up vigilance amongst ruminants.

"The BVA would encourage vets to speak to their local AHVLA, SAC or DARD team to discuss any suspect cases and consider submitting specimens for further investigation. We understand that in confirmed cases clinical signs occur in clusters and vets should ensure they know what to look for in both adult and perinatal ruminants.

"While the cases in the south east of England suggest the virus is vector-borne other potential routes of transmission are still being considered. Although the risk of zoonosis is believed to be very low it has not been ruled out and a sensible precautionary approach should be taken by those handling infected animals and specimens."

In the EU, several delegations at the recent Agriculture and Fisheries council meeting, supported the Dutch request for a coordinated EU approach regarding this new disease, including rapid exchange of information on the detected cases, combined research efforts on diagnostics, epidemiology and vaccine development, and financial support by the Commission for monitoring and research.

According to the Commission, EU could finance research in this area.

The Commission has stressed the need for a unified, proportionate approach and is encouraging voluntary reporting of the disease and monitoring by the Member States.

Further Reading

- Find out more information on Schmallenberg by clicking here.

Chris Harris

Chris Harris



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