Fears over fresh outbreaks of farm virus

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The news that fresh outbreaks of the deadly sheep and cattle disease Schmallenberg are likely has been described as “disappointing but not a surprise” by the National Farmers Union.

It was confirmed this week that the virus, which causes birth defects in lambs and calves, has over-wintered in the UK and will bring fresh outbreaks next spring.

Scientific experts gathered from across the animal health and welfare industry at a conference organised by the NFU on Wednesday to discuss animal health and the Schmallenberg virus and NFU animal health adviser Catherine McLaughlin said more needed to be done to identify where the disease is circulating to help farmers plan and avoid livestock contact with midges that bite and infect the animal with the virus.

“Scientists from the Royal Veterinary College and the Institute of Animal Health have confirmed that the Schmallenberg virus has over-wintered, she said. “This is concerning for our members who will be planning autumn breeding, a critical time.

“Animals infected with the virus during these early months of pregnancy are most at risk of producing deformed offspring and of having abortions.

“This is obviously a great worry for our members. However, early reports do show us that livestock that had the disease this year and last year will have developed immunity and this will help build a natural resistance here in the UK.

“What we need is more efficient and effective diagnostics on the ground identifying where the Schmallenberg virus is, and therefore likely to cause potential problems.

“We would ask members to be vigilant and report any symptoms to the vet or animal health office.”

The disease is currently found on farms throughout Western Europe but has so far been largely confined to the south and east of the UK.