Farmers in Northern Ireland have been dealt a bitter blow after the Schmallenberg virus was discovered there for the first time.
Tests on a malformed calf on a farm near Banbridge, in County Down, confirmed the presence of the virus.
A second calf from the same herd tested negative but displayed signs consistent with symptoms associated with the disease, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) said.
On Tuesday (30 October), the Republic of Ireland reported its first case of the disease, following tests on a calf foetus from a farm in County Cork.
Farmers have been urged to stay vigilant and report any suspected cases of the virus, which causes fever and birth defects in sheep and cattle.
Northern Ireland agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill said: “These developments are unsurprising given the rapid spread of the virus across northern Europe and large parts of Britain since it was first identified.
“While Schmallenberg virus is recognised as a low impact disease, I appreciate the distress that it causes at an individual farm level. Any losses as a result of the disease are regrettable.
“I would encourage farmers if they suspect presence of the disease to contact their veterinary practitioner. Suspect cases that meet the clinical case definition will be investigated by the Agri-food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).”
“While Schmallenberg virus is recognised as a low impact disease, I appreciate the distress that it causes at an individual farm level. Any losses as a result of the disease are regrettable.”
Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland agriculture minister
Schmallenberg virus, which is closely related to the far more serious Bluetongue virus, has been found on nearly 300 British farms since it entered the country last year.
The virus is thought to have arrived in southern England last autumn via infected biting midges that were blown across the Channel from the Netherlands and Germany, where it was first detected.
Veterinary scientists believe the disease may have survived the winter and is likely to be circulating in flocks this season. As a result, a significant number of cases are expected in the spring when sheep are lambing.
A vaccine is being developed for Schmallenberg, but it will not be ready for commercial use until next year at the earliest.