Schmallenberg virus now affects most counties

Most livestock farms in England and Wales are now likely to be affected by the Schmallenberg virus – the disease that causes deformed and stillborn lambs and calves.

Little more than a year after arriving in England, the virus has now been confirmed in all counties of England and all major livestock-producing areas of Wales, said DEFRA chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens.

More cases would be found as winter lambing progressed, Mr Gibbens warned. But all the evidence suggested the impact of the disease would be low, with 4-6% of infected herds and flocks experiencing losses of 2-5% due to deformed and stillborn offspring.

Some early-lambing flocks had reported losses of 40-50%, said Mr Gibbens. But this could be due to a combination of factors. Flocks where oestrus had been synchronised, for example, could be at higher risk of deformed lambs if all ewes were infected at a susceptible time.

No acute cases have been recorded in Scotland, but farmers north of the border are being urged to remain alert to the possibility of the virus being detected after a small number of animals that had recently moved into the country tested positive for antibodies.

Scottish chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas said: “In the absence of a vaccine, the message to farmers is that they should continue to exercise vigilance, particularly about animal movements, which are the most likely source of SBV infection in Scotland.

She added: “Farmers should exercise caution when introducing new animals on to their farm and should consider testing breeding stock for the SBV antibody. They may also wish to test potential purchases prior to movement on to the farm. We would suggest that farmers discuss this with their vet.”

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