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Schmallenberg Surveillance Call From NFUS

NFU Scotland has asked the Scottish Government to consider active surveillance so that Scottish livestock keepers can plan ahead should Schmallenberg virus (SBV) move north.  The Union believes that Scottish livestock farmers would volunteer to be part of the surveillance effort.

Work carried out by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the Institute for Animal Health (IAH) looking at the epidemiology of SBV has uncovered results which suggest that the virus has over-wintered in the south and is circulating now.  The midge borne virus, which affects both cattle and sheep, is also reported to once again be active in parts of Europe.

SBV was first identified in cattle on German and Dutch farms in 2011, where clinical signs of fever, reduced milk yield, loss of appetite, loss of condition and occasionally diarrhoea were noted. The clinical signs disappeared after a few days but it was later discovered that where infection of cattle or sheep took place during the early stage of pregnancy, congenital disorders of the foetus, stillbirth and abortion could result.

In 2011, cases were reported in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Luxembourg, Denmark, Switzerland and in the UK, where 276 farms have had livestock affected by the virus.

NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller said:
“Scotland has had no reported cases of SBV but given the impact that the virus can have on pregnant animals, we need an early warning system to see if the virus is moving northwards.  In the absence of a vaccine and with the virus believed to be active once again, more robust surveillance tracking the virus would allow those with cattle and sheep in Scotland to plan ahead were the virus to arrive here.

“We have suggested to Scottish Government that we look at using sentinel animals and monitor them for exposure to SBV.  Such is the level of concern over the disease that many Scottish farmers, including myself, would happily volunteer to be part of that process and provide stock for testing.

“Active surveillance is important as it may allow flockmasters and herd managers to minimise any potential impact of SBV by modifying their breeding plans.  Scottish action would also dovetail with any surveillance undertaken south of the Border.

“Timing of the potential disease progression is crucial.  If we knew the virus was on its way, those with autumn calving cows and sheep could consider allowing their animals to be exposed to the virus before breeding, therefore developing immunity before becoming pregnant.  For sheep, if virus is active, it may also be appropriate to move the breeding period back to later in the year when midges are less active.

“These are important management decisions that would be easier to make if we had robust surveillance work monitoring the spread of the virus.

“In the meantime, we urge keepers to remain vigilant to the clinical signs of the disease and investigate any suspicious symptoms. Given one of the more noticeable symptoms is a drop in milk yield, dairy producers will play a crucial role in surveillance.

“As a midge borne virus, the biggest threat is from incursions of infected midges but as always imports will play a role and keepers are urged to seek veterinary advice before importing animals from areas know to be affected by the disease.” 

Notes to Editors

  • Schmallenberg virus came into awareness late in 2011. It was first identified, as a new virus, on German and Dutch farms, in cattle where clinical signs of fever, reduced milk yield, loss of appetite, loss of condition and occasionally diarrhoea were noted. The clinical signs disappeared after a few days but it was later discovered that where infection took place during the early stage of pregnancy congenital disorders of the foetus, stillbirth and abortion could result.
  • The disease affects both cattle and sheep and is a midge borne virus. In 2011 it spread almost silently across northern Europe, thanks to its relatively mild and non-descript clinical symptoms during the active phase of infection. It was only when those animals which had been exposed to the virus during early pregnancy started to produce lambs and calves that the true spread of the virus became apparent. Cases were then reported in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Luxembourg, Denmark, Switzerland and the UK (England and the Channel Islands).
  • There are 276 GB farms reporting SBV: 53 in cattle, 220 in sheep and 3 premises which reported sheep (earlier in the year) and are now also reporting cattle cases.

Ends

Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Date Published:

News Article No.: 86/12


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