The Schmallenberg virus, causing birth defects and miscarriages in livestock, is at the origin of an emerging animal disease that has been found first in several Western European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands in the second half of 2011. It is named after a German town Schmallenberg.
According to the latest testing results of the British Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), of the 74 affected farms, five of the positive cases have been diagnosed in cattle, 69 in sheep, and none to date in other species.
So far, none of the affected farms have reported importing animals during 2011 from the affected areas in mainland Europe, said AHVLA.
The virus is thought to be spread by midges, mosquitoes and ticks. Experts said that the risk for human health posed by the virus is negligible.
Experts also determined that the viraemic period (the time during which the virus circulates in the bloodstream of an infected animal) of Schmallenberg virus is short and that virus transmission most likely occurs by vectors such as mosquitoes or biting midges, with apparent similarity to the transmission of the bluetongue virus.
The symptoms of the disease include milk yield reduction and diarrhoea, and late abortions and birth deformities in newborn sheep, goats and cattle.
In early 2012, the first cases were suspected in the south and east of England. In these initial cases, the disease was diagnosed following the testing of deformed lambs, said the Veterinary Laboratories Agency of Britain.
As this is a newly identified virus there are still aspects of the disease that remain unknown at this point until more research was done, stated the agency.(*)