Schmallenberg virus hits Britain

Cases of the Schmallenberg virus (SBV) have been detected on four sheep farms in Norfolk, Suffolk and East Sussex, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) has confirmed.

It is believed the virus, discovered last summer in the Netherlands and Germany, spread to the UK through wind-borne infected midges. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) added that pregnant sheep imported from the affected countries last year could also have carried the disease.

Symptoms include fever, inappetence, loss of body condition and sometimes diarrhoea, and usually disappear after two or three weeks. But when affecting pregnant animals, it can lead to foetal abnormalities or even abortion.  

The AHVLA has called for vigilance among farmers and issued a list of signs they should pay attention to. “We want to fully investigate certain types of limb and brain defects, in new-born ruminants and foetuses,” the agency said.

“Specifically, contractures that are present at birth that result in reduced mobility of several limb joints. In severe cases, limbs and the spine also may be twisted. The brain damage caused by this virus is severe and results in blindness and lack of brain function, such that calves and lambs appear like ‘dummies’.

“We would be very grateful if farmers inform their veterinary surgeon of such cases. In addition, we would wish to screen for surveillance of any stillbirth, malformation or nervous disease in new-born animals or foetuses born to ruminant dams that were imported from mainland Europe in 2011,” the AHVLA added.

> New virus worries farmers