Farmers are being urged to be vigilant after a new disease, the Schmallenberg (SBV) virus, was found on four sheep farms in eastern England.
Tests confirmed that the viral disease, which affects sheep, cattle and goats, was found on two farms in Norfolk, one in Suffolk and another in East Sussex.
The disease was first detected last August in cattle in Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium.
Symptoms include fever, reduced milk yield, loss of appetite and body condition, and in some cases diarrhoea, with symptoms disappearing after a few days.
The disease, which is named after the German town where it was first detected, has been linked to miscarriages and stillbirths in newborn sheep, goats and cattle.
The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) believes the virus was carried over to eastern England via midges from northern Europe.
A spokesman from the AHVLA said: “We have identified the Schmallenberg virus in some samples and as we continue surveillance we may find further cases.
“These samples came from the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and East Sussex.
“These counties are in the area we had identified as potentially being at risk from infected midges blown across the Channel from the affected areas and we suspect this is the most likely cause of transmission.”
At present, the disease is not notifiable, which means farmers do not have a legal duty to report it.
But DEFRA has advised producers to report any suspicious cases of incidences, especially incidences of limb and brain defects in newborn animals, to the SAC or the AHVLA.
A DEFRA spokesman said: “Although the Schmallenberg virus is not a notifiable disease, we are asking farmers to report suspicious cases.
“They should speak to their vet, who can refer it to the AHVLA for testing. Although the virus is only a few months old, we have got a test that we can use from Germany to detect it.
“We have only had four positives cases, but we don’t think we have seen the last of it. These have come from farmers who have been lambing early.
“We anticipate the disease has likely been around since last summer, but we want people to keep reporting suspected cases.”
Because SBV is not a notifiable disease, it does not require movement restrictions, the spokesman added.
DEFRA said the true extent of Schmallenberg was unknown. The risk of human health is thought to be very low, but farmers and vets are advised to take biosecurity precautions.
In The Netherlands, 240 farms have been affected, resulting in 66 confirmed cases. In Belgium, the virus has been detected in 126 farms. And in Germany, 22 farms are affected.
NFU chief livestock adviser Peter Garbutt said: “I would urge farmers to remain extra vigilant for signs of this disease and take all sensible precautions to prevent infection.
“It will also help if any unusual symptoms, or abortions, are reported to the local vet or animal health office.”
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