Schmallenberg ‘deformed lamb’ disease found in cattle for the first time in the UK

THE first case of Schmallenberg virus in UK cattle has been detected in one animal in West Sussex.

The illness, which has been dubbed ‘deformed lamb disease’, has been now been found in 21 sheep, including six in Suffolk, two in Essex and 11 in Norfolk, but this is the first time it has been confirmed in cattle in the UK.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency today released results from further testing which reveal the presence of Schmallenberg virus, which is not a notifiable disease, in a total of 22 animals. It confirmed the disease has been found in Hertfordshire for the first time. All other cases were in counties where the virus has already been found.

There have been five confirmed cases in Kent and seven in East Sussex.

The country’s first cases were found in two sheep flocks, two in Norfolk, one in Suffolk and another in East Sussex, in January.

Animal health experts believe the virus has spread from Europe through midges. It is possible that the mild and warm conditions early last autumn enabled newly-pregnant ewes to be bitten.

Since August 2011, both the Netherlands and Germany have reported outbreaks of the disease in cattle, with clinical signs including fever, reduced milk yield, inappetence, loss of body condition and, principally in Dutch herds, diarrhoea.

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Herds experienced outbreaks of disease lasting two or three weeks, with individual affected animals recovering over several days. More recently, from November 2011 onwards, there have been reports of miscarriages and stillbirths associated with congenital abnormalities affecting mainly sheep but also cattle and goats.

Schmallenberg virus (SBV) appears to belong to a group of viruses that are spread by insects, principally midges and mosquitoes.

According to an initial risk assessment carried out by public health authorities in the Netherlands and a follow-up risk assessment by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the risk to human health from SBV is likely to be very low.

Nevertheless, farmers and veterinary surgeons are advised to take sensible hygiene precautions when working with livestock.

No live test is yet available.

The virus is a completely different type from Blue Tongue. The first case of Blue Tongue (BTV8) in England was confirmed on a Suffolk farm near Ipswich in August 2007 and the following year, a major vaccination campaign was launch to protect cattle and sheep from infection. It was thought to have been found on more than 50,000 farms in Europe.