Schmallenberg Confirmed on Scottish Farm

Farmers urged to discuss disease with their vet

Confirmation that a new viral disease has been discovered in Scotland for the first time was an expected but disappointing blow to Scottish cattle and sheep producers.

Spread by midges, the Schmallenberg virus (SBV) was first identified on German and Dutch farms in 2011 and spread throughout parts of Europe and southern England. Results from surveillance across GB in 2012 indicated much wider evidence of spread of SBV and sero-positive animals have been found in the North of England.

Previous surveillance in Scotland identified animals carrying antibodies to SBV but these had been brought into the country from at risk areas.  The recent discovery of positive animals in a closed dairy herd in Dumfries and Galloway confirmed the widely held expectation that the virus has spread to Scotland and is likely to start to circulate widely in 2013.  

Exposure to SBV can result in relatively mild conditions in cattle and sheep but where infection takes place during the early stages of pregnancy, it can result in congenital disorders of lambs and calves.  Infection may also be linked to poor breeding performance.

With the confirmation that the virus has arrived in Scotland, NFU Scotland is urging cattle and sheep producers to remain vigilant and discuss the implications for their stock with their vet.  Approval for a vaccine is believed to be imminent and farmers, in discussion with their vet, can look at breeding strategies that minimise the risk.  NFU Scotland, with SRUC and Biobest, have already put in place a surveillance plan that will monitor a network of dairy farms in Scotland for the presence of SBV antibodies in their milk.
NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller said:

“The confirmation that SBV has been active in South West Scotland is a disappointment but not a surprise and the disease now presents a genuine risk to Scottish cattle and sheep this year.  The crucial thing now is for Scottish livestock farmers to speak to their vets and give serious consideration as to how they minimise any impact that the virus may have on their cattle and sheep.

“SBV is not a notifiable disease but experience in England and other parts of Europe has shown the devastating impact the disease can have on lambs and calves.  It is of such importance to our members that we will co-ordinate the Scottish monitoring effort and will be working with SRUC and Biobest Laboratories to track the virus’ progress across Scotland.

“The impact of SBV in Scotland will depend on where the disease is, the temperature limits at which the disease can replicate within midges and how quickly it may spread - all questions that we currently cannot answer but the monitoring effort will help establish.

“It is unclear how the virus ability to over winter will be impacted by this prolonged spring freeze. On the present evidence the virus seems to be able to cope well with Northern Europe’s climate and one would therefore expect spring calving cows (at least in the Southern half of Scotland) to be challenged by the virus during the danger period of the breeding cycle.  Risk is not just from the south; Schmallenberg is also present in Ireland and infected midges have the potential to move across to Western Scotland.  

“It is expected that vaccination will be an option in the near future with emergency approval pending.  That is going to be an option for cattle and sheep producers to consider when it comes to protecting stock. However, management changes – such as delaying the introduction of bulls and rams – can also minimise the impact of the disease on calves and lambs.

“These are the kinds of discussions that our farmers now need to urgently have with their vets.”  

Notes to editors

  • Testing of a dairy herd at the Barony campus of Scotland’s Rural College in Dumfries and Galloway showed eight cows tested positive for SBV antibodies, indicating exposure to the virus in 2012, although at a low prevalence. No deformed calves have yet been born to the 160-strong herd on the farm.  The animals were homebred and no animals had been added to the herd from outside Scotland.  No acute cases had previously been recorded in Scotland.
  • Schmallenberg Virus (SBV) is a virus that was first identified in Europe in 2011. It affects sheep cattle and goats and is spread by midges. The acute, active phase of the infection presents with fairly mild symptoms, typically diarrhoea, fever and milk drop with a rapid recovery over several days. There may be some accompanying drop in fertility associated with this stage.
  • If infection occurs during the early stages of pregnancy, between 25-50 days for sheep and 70-120 days in cattle, abnormalities can occur in the foetus that may be born alive or dead or it may be aborted. Malformations can include bent limbs and fixed joints, twisted neck or spine, a domed appearance to the skull, short lower jaw and brain deformities. Some animals are born looking normal but have nervous signs such as blindness or a dummy presentation – uncoordinated movement, recumbency, an inability to suck and sometimes convulsions.
  • Farmers are advised to contact their veterinary surgeon if they encounter any of the symptoms of either the acute stage of the disease or malformed foetuses and abortions.


Contact Sarah Anderson on 0131 472 4108

Date Published:

News Article No.: 41/13

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