On Monday night I got a call from a farmer who had just taken two malformed dead lambs, unfortunately these were the 2nd set in a week. Back in 2013 he had about 10% abortion in his early lambing flock with schmallenberg SBV virus. He had made a diagnosis himself that these were presenting identical to 2013. He was going to drop them in the morning for me to have a look at. That morning I had another lambing, the farmer rang saying there was very unusual presentation and he couldn’t sort them! Sure enough, with SBV on the back of my mind, we pulled two malformed lambs again very similar to what I had seen plenty of in 2013. These lambs had bent necks (torticollis) and bent flexed and twisted joints in all 4 limbs (arthrogryposis). They didn’t have the shortened jaws or much curving of the spine.
At this stage I am only speculating as we are awaiting laboratory results from one of the lambs which we took. Unfortunately if it ‘quacks and looks like a duck’ it usually is! So yes I’m fairly certain we have SBV virus back in Wicklow, with many confirmed reports of similar cases around the country and some positive lab samples also. This article is certainly not to scare people but more to raise vigilance particularly when seeing unusual presentations at calving’s and lambing’s. Unfortunately because these foetuses tend to be so deformed some can be very difficult to birth normally, and may require c sections.
I first came across SBV virus unknowingly actually in a dairy herd in November 2012, the farm had milk drop and 8-10 abortions. We investigated all the usual causes and found nothing at the time. The bloods were subsequently retested for SBV and they were positive. This can occur with SBV where you get milk drop and possible abortions potentially as a result of the viremias (which can last up to 2-3 weeks in a herd). To be honest though there are more common causes of these symptoms and each case should be investigated by your vet.
In early winter of 2013 we really became familiar with SBV virus with multiple lambing’s and as the spring began calving’s with deformed foetuses. We saw some flocks with high incidences and most cattle herds with low incidences. We did see so many of our farms affected though. At this stage much was becoming known about the disease and we were aware it was spread earlier in the season by the culcoides (midge) between April and November. The midge carries the virus and when it bites an animal it can transmit the virus. Depending on the stage of pregnancy you will see varying affects. It is usually early on in pregnancy that when infected you will see these malformed foetuses developing. Affecting cattle at any stage it can cause fever, off food milk drop and diarrhoea. My experience of this was uncommon but we should be aware of these symptoms.
Back in 2013 we saw very unusual geography/distribution of farms affected. Neighbouring flocks could have from 2% to 15% of abortions and both lambing at the same time. Some say it can be down to fleece cover etc. I suppose if was guessing id imagine we won’t see as much SBV this year hopefully as back in 2013. This is based on the fact this virus is very like the arbakane virus. It is acting similarly also coming in a waves of every 3-4 years. Hopefully we still have a lot of immunity in cattle particularly. From what I can see is younger animals without immunity might be at risk. In 2013 we generally also saw the abnormal foetuses later in cattle from March onwards.
So what can you do?
There are no treatments and the vaccine (which was discontinued in Ireland because no one used it in 2015) must be given much earlier in the season.
The main thing is remain vigilant when lambing or calving. Due to the fact these unusual presentations can present problems it is worth ringing your vet to assess unusual presentations before pulling.