Livestock farmers urged to flag up suspected cases of Schmallenberg disease

Lamb born dead with arthrogryposis (persistent flexion of the joints) – arthrogryposis is one of the

Lamb born dead with arthrogryposis (persistent flexion of the joints) arthrogryposis is one of the congenital abnormalities associated with SBV infection (Schmallenberg Virus) - Credit: Archant

Livestock farmers are being urged to get post mortems carried out on lambs which they suspect may have succumbed to a virus which is currently sweeping the country.

Cases of Schmallenberg virus (SBV) continue to grow, with lambing flocks across the country experiencing “higher than normal” losses from deformed lambs, with the disease so far confirmed in the south west, south east, Wales and the north east. Early calving herds have also experienced calves affected with congenital defects.

SBV is transmitted through infected midge bites to sheep, cattle and goats. Infected cattle sometimes show symptoms of acute disease, but if infected in the earlier stages of pregnancy, lambs and calves can be born with severe malformations that can make delivery very difficult particularly in those with rigidly fixed limbs that can cause damage to the birth canal.

The disease has welfare implications, and can suppress milk production and growth rates. Any infection present on farm now will have taken place last year and there is nothing that can be done to alleviate issues at the moment.

“We have already heard of a number of cases and mainstream lambing and calving is only just starting. However, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) hasn’t received many samples so the true extent of the problem is not understood,” an industry statement said.

“Farmers and vets are being urged to be vigilant through the lambing and calving period. It is very important that, if producers encounter lambs or calves with deformities, they contact their vets so post-mortem examination can be carried out to establish whether Schmallenberg is the cause. “When APHA suspects SBV they will fund the testing for SBV. Test results, whether negative or positive, allow you to confirm or rule out specific disease issues in that animal and potentially in the wider herd/flock, so there is value to the individual farm in investigation.

“At present there is no vaccine available and it is already too late to vaccinate sheep that are due to lamb this spring or cows due to calve. However, there will be vaccine available this year and further details on when will be confirmed soon.”

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Contact the local APHA Veterinary Investigation Centre for details.