A vaccine to protect sheep from the Schmallenberg virus is "desperately needed to prevent a catastrophe" in the UK flock, sheep industry leaders have warned.
The National Sheep Association and Sheep Veterinary Society joined forces to warn that tupping, the most infective period for the virus in ewes and their unborn lambs, was getting close, but although a vaccine had been developed, it was moving too slowly through the Veterinary Medicines Directorate's approvals process.
A joint NSA/SVS statement says: "The most critical infective period is the first 30 days of pregnancy, and with a three- to six-week period between vaccination and immunity, it is important this vaccine is made available as early as possible.
"The next period of risk for the spread of the virus by susceptible midges is around the time of our peak breeding season for sheep, beginning in the early autumn."
The statement adds: "We desperately need this vaccine available for the breeding season and would like to offer any help we can to enable VMD to achieve this end."
Paul Roger of the SVS called the situation a "potential disease catastrophe which required a vaccine". And NSA chief executive Phil Stocker added: "If we are to contain this virus then the benefits of having a vaccine available to cover at least part of this year's tupping will be hugely valuable. NSA urges the VMD to carry out all the necessary checks but proceed as fast as possible so as not to miss this season entirely."
[Box] Latest figures from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency showed the virus has been reported on 276 farms in England and Wales.
There are now 220 confirmed cases in sheep and 53 in cattle, with three farms that reported the virus in sheep earlier in the year now reporting it in cattle.
Alick Simmons, DEFRA's UK deputy chief veterinary officer, said the virus had not gone away and was likely to have survived the winter.
This is because a small number of cases - seven in sheep that have lambed in April and May - have been confirmed indicating that the virus has been circulating in the new year over the winter, said Dr Simmons.
Share your own thoughts on Schmallenberg on the forums and follow the latest developments on our dedicated page.