Unfortunately for Irish farmers, the Schmallenberg virus has been confirmed in two separate cases in Ireland.
The cases, which the Department of Agriculture has confirmed were bovine, were discovered in late 2016 in Laois and Cork. The virus, also known as SBV, was first recorded in Schmallenberg, Germany, from which it gets its name. It poses no threat to humans, says the Department of Agriculture.
However, it does cause serious and fatal problems with the offspring of pregnant livestock that it infects. At the moment, it’s known only to infect ruminants. Pregnant cows or sheep that are infected will often give birth to offspring that are already dead or that die within a few hours of birth.
It’s transmitted through bites from midges carrying the disease. Ireland was last in trouble with SBV back in 2012, just a year after it was first discovered in Germany in 2011. In 2013, it was responsible for the deaths of many lambs in flocks across Ireland, with some farms losing 35% of their lambs to the virus.
In the most recent cases of SBV in Ireland over the past few weeks, the Department says that it had been identified in bulk milk samples, as well as through the identification of congenital calf and lamb deformities.
The symptoms of SBV in newborn ruminants include:
- Bent limbs
- Fixed joints
- Twisted neck/spine
- Short jaw
- Domed skull
- Brain & spinal cord deformities
- Dummy calf – not sucking
- HAS – hydranencephaly arthrogryposis syndrome
Adult ruminants that are infected will often fully recover within a few days; herds are affected for two to three weeks on average. Symptoms in adult ruminants with SBV include:
- Weak appetite
- Reduced milk yield
- Sometimes diarrhoea
- Affected animals recover fully within a few days
- Herds are affected for two to three weeks
The Schmallenberg virus has affected world trade in recent years, as China banned the import of ovine and bovine genetic material from Denmark, Germany, the UK, and France from fears that the Schmallenberg virus would spread.
However, in the summer of 2016 the ban was lifted with the belief that SBV was no longer a threat.
The news that the virus has spread across the UK, and now into Ireland, could bring cause for concern. Scottish farming authorities in particular are on high alert after December brought confirmation that SBV was in England and Wales, and now Irish farmers are being told to watch closely for calves and lambs showing signs of SBV.
However, in a 2013 press release by the Department of Agriculture, it was confirmed that the midges are only usually active from April to December; this means that new infections in the next couple of months are unlikely, but not far away enough that we should be complacent.
According to the Department of Agriculture, there is no treatment currently available for SBV; however a vaccine for use in non-pregnant sheep and cattle was previously available under special licence for use in summer 2013. The department says that farmers should contact their veterinary practitioner for advice in relation to vaccination.