Industry concerns as Schmallenberg cases increase
Published:  23 January, 2017

Livestock producers are being encouraged to submit lambs with suspected Schmallenberg virus (SBV) for post-mortem inspection. This call for action follows on from a rise in confirmed cases of the disease. 

SBV is a recently discovered infection found in sheep, cattle and goats. According to animal health charity The Moredun Foundation, reports of the disease were first made in Germany in 2011. The illness presents a risk to pregnant animals as it can cause birth defects in foetuses.  

The Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) said there have been cases detected by the post-mortem diagnostic service at John Warren ABP in County Durham in lambs in four holdings in the north-east of England, including Northumberland.

The virus does not spread from animal to animal but is transmitted by midges, which infect animals when they bite them.

According to the levy board, no cases of Schmallenberg virus causing birth defects in calves or lambs were detected in 2014 or 2015. It is thought this is because the animals have developed an immunity following the epidemic between 2011 and 2012.

“The possible re-emergence of Schmallenberg was predicted following a study in autumn 2015 which tested young flock replacement sheep in the south of England, the results of which suggested that levels of immunity may have dropped,” said Ben Strugnell from Farm Post Mortems, which operated the service at J Warren ABP.

“It is very important that if producers encounter lambs with skeletal deformities, these are submitted for post-mortem examination so appropriate samples can be taken to establish whether Schmallenberg is the cause. The best advice for producers is to contact their vet, who can provide information on the best way to arrange a post-mortem.”

He added that sampling blood of ewes which give birth to affected lambs is a useful tool. “Younger sheep may be most as risk as older ones may be immune from previous exposure to the virus.

“At present there are no vaccines available for Schmallenberg but it is already too late to vaccinate sheep which are due to lamb in spring. However, it is important we ascertain the true levels of the virus, because this will help determine whether there is a need to vaccinate later in the year.”