The Schmallenberg virus has successfully overwintered and could spread as far as Scotland and Wales in the coming breeding season, researchers have warned.

Tests on sheep and cattle carried out by the researchers at the Royal Veterinary College and Institute for Animal Health, Pirbright, showed animals were showing new signs of exposure to the disease.

Speaking at a briefing on the virus at the Science Media Centre in London on 7 August, Pirbright’s Peter Mertens said the whole of Great Britain was now at risk.

Professor Mertens, who leads the Pirbright team of scientists studying the disease, said: “Animals that had originally tested negative for antibodies against the virus became positive between March and June 2012.

“This indicates the virus has survived the winter and is circulating here during the current midge season. We had hoped that it might simply burn itself out and fail to make a reappearance this year, but this has not been the case.”

Prof Mertens also dashed any hopes that a vaccine would be ready ahead of the sheep breeding season, which is the critical infection period for the disease.

“It appears unlikely that a vaccine will be available and licensed for use in the UK for this season, so it is very important to consider what other control measures might be supported by the results of scientific research,” he said.

For more background and information go to our dedicated Schmallenberg page.