UK: Schmallenberg sheep and cattle disease has overwintered in UK, say experts

News that the sheep and cattle disease Schmallenberg has over-wintered in the UK and will bring fresh outbreaks next spring has been described as “disappointing but not a surprise”.

Scientific experts gathered from across the animal health and welfare industry at a conference organised by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) on Wednesday to discuss animal health and the Schmallenberg virus.

NFU animal health adviser Catherine McLaughlin said more needed to be done to identify where the disease is circulating to help farmers plan and avoid livestock contact with midges that bite and infect the animal with the virus.

“Scientists from the Royal Veterinary College and the Institute of Animal Health have confirmed that the Schmallenberg virus has over-wintered, she said. “This is concerning for our members who will be planning autumn breeding, a critical time. Animals infected with the virus during these early months of pregnancy are most at risk of producing deformed offspring and of having abortions. This is obviously a great worry for our members.

“However, early reports do show us that livestock that had the disease this year and last year will have developed immunity and this will help build a natural resistance here in the UK.

“What we need is more efficient and effective diagnostics on the ground identifying where the Schmallenberg virus is, and therefore likely to cause potential problems. This will be the best tool to help farmers in the fight against this disease this year. We also need to have the vaccine, which we understand has been developed to be licensed and approved as soon as possible. While this won’t help those farmers with infected animals, it will start to protect those in areas that have not yet seen the disease.

“We would ask members to be vigilant and report any symptoms to the local vet or animal health office.”

Most Read

NFU vice-president Adam Quinney, who chaired the animal health conference said: “The report from the IAH Institute for Animal Health) and the Royal Veterinary college on Schmallenberg has confirmed what we always suspected. The midge has over-wintered and will cause problems for livestock farmers next spring. However, from the advice we have received today, we are hoping there will be a low incidence rate on farm. That said there will be some tough decisions that need to be made, not least about tupping and managing the all-important breeding season for autumn.”