The presence of the Schmallenberg virus has been confirmed on four sheep farms in the UK.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) said the viral disease, which affects sheep, cattle and goats, was found on two farms in Norfolk, one in Suffolk and another in East Sussex.

Schmallenberg virus was first detected last August in cattle in the Netherlands and Germany.

Clinical symptoms of the disease include fever, reduced milk yield, loss of appetite and body condition, and in some cases diarrhoea, with symptoms disappearing after a few days.

More recently, the disease has been linked to reports of miscarriages and stillbirths associated with congenital abnormalities, affecting mainly sheep but also cattle and goats.

A spokesman from the AHVLA said: “We have finished the initial analysis of samples we have received as a result of our enhanced surveillance for this new disease. We have identified the Schmallenberg virus in some of these 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 that this is the most likely cause of transmission.”

At present the virus is not a notifiable disease, but producers are advised to report incidences of limb and brain defects in new-born animals to the SAC or the AHVLA.