Schmallenberg virus confirmed on farms in the UK - Printable Version

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Schmallenberg virus confirmed on farms in the UK - drummer - 02-26-2012

Schmallenberg virus confirmed on farms in the UK

The disease, which has spread from the Netherlands and Germany, causes abortions and birth deformities in farm animals

A new virus that causes miscarriages and birth deformities in farm animals, though it is not known to affect humans, has been confirmed at four sheep farms in Norfolk, Suffolk and East Sussex.

Animals that have the virus and become pregnant have either miscarriages, stillbirths or offspring with deformities such as a twisted neck, brain abnormalities or contracted limbs. There are mild symptoms of the virus in other adult animals – a few days of fever, low milk yield, loss of appetite, and sometimes diarrhoea – but these cannot be easily distinguished from other common illnesses. It mostly affects sheep but can also enter cattle or goats

Russia banned imports of sheep and goat meat as well as live animals from the Netherlands on 18 January, joining Mexico. The Dutch agriculture ministry said China had asked for more information.

The UK's agency said the true extent of Schmallenberg is not known. The Netherlands has been hardest hit, with at least 240 farms affected, while in Belgium it has been detected in 126 farms. In Germany, where the virus was first discovered, 22 farms are affected.

The disease is not "notifiable", meaning farmers have no legal duty to report it, and there are no control measures imposed on infected farms or restrictions on buying and selling animals. "This may change based on forthcoming information over the coming weeks, but at present it is not anticipated," said Defra. The carrier is thought to be midges, which do not emerge until May, allowing vets time to gather more information.

A Defra spokesman said it was "very much early days" in determining the course of further action; however, farms already co-existed with salmonella and leptospirosis (Weil's disease), and had practices to manage the diseases.