Schmallenberg Virus - Remain Vigilant, Scotland Offers Free Tests

UK - The Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) remains prepared to assist the local industry in response to the Schmallenberg virus (SBV) outbreak which has spread across northern Europe, including Great Britain. Meanwhile, Scottish farmers are being offered free tests for virus in animals imported from areas where the virus is circulating.
calendar icon 30 August 2012
clock icon 4 minute read

Remain Vigilant

Dr Glenn Kennedy, Acting Director of AFBI’s Veterinary Sciences Division, encourages farmers and private vets to be on the look-out for the disease.

“We would encourage farmers to familiarise themselves with the symptoms and report any suspicion to their private veterinary practitioner (PVP). This will allow the PVP to assess the case and to submit fresh post-mortem material to AFBI’s veterinary laboratories at Stormont or Omagh for testing if SBV is suspected. In particular, at this time of the year, we would urge livestock keepers to be on the look-out for the acute signs of SBV infection in adult animals – milk drop, diarrhoea, fever, or inappetence – although these are not specific to SBV. As we head towards the Autumn calving season, livestock keepers should also remind themselves of the clinical picture in neonatal animals – stillbirths or weak calves, limb and spinal deformities, and/or abnormal skulls and jaws.”

By the end of the second week of August, over 275 farm holdings in the south-west, south-east and east of England had been identified as having clinical cases of Schmallenberg virus infection, with roughly 20 per cent of these confirmed on cattle holdings and the remainder on sheep holdings. There has been a steady increase in the number of confirmed cases in Germany (over 1,700 premises), France (over 2,600 premises), Belgium (over 550 premises) and The Netherlands (over 350 premises). Incursions into Denmark and Switzerland (each with two confirmed infected premises) have been more recent.

AFBI has been working closely with colleagues in the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development to ensure that a consistent and measured response to the threat of SBV reaching Northern Ireland is maintained.

While Northern Ireland is generally still considered to be at ‘low risk’ based on mathematical modelling of the likely spread of the virus in a midge vector, the risk of disease incursion in a live animal import from an affected region remains. Recently published work, carried out by the Institute of Animal Health and the Royal Veterinary College, has demonstrated that the virus has over-wintered last year and is currently in circulation in GB.

Simon Doherty, Veterinary Research Officer in AFBI, describes how the institute is prepared for rapid diagnosis of this emerging disease; “We were fortunate to have been able to work-up the molecular (RT-PCR) test for Schmallenberg virus quite early on, due to access to reagents and materials through several European collaborative scientific networks in which our scientists are involved. We have been in a good position to access protocols for the serological (blood) test; this allows us to screen for the presence of antibodies which would be found in the blood of animals previously infected with virus. Since the springtime, we have been able to use these tests to screen tissues from possible cases in Northern Ireland and, to date, all have been negative.”

Several research groups are also working on various types of candidate vaccines for SBV but these are some way off licensing, commercial production and marketing.

Free Tests for Scotland

Farmers in Scotland are being offered free tests for the Schmallenberg virus (SBV) in animals imported from areas where the virus is circulating.

The move is a result of a partnership involving the Scottish Government, the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS), Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and Moredun Research Institute (MRI).

The Scottish Government already funds the SAC and MRI to investigate clinical cases where SBV infection is a possible diagnosis. The cost to farmers is the standard Scottish Government subsidised rate for such investigations.

NFUS have now announced additional support for SAC Veterinary laboratories to test free of charge up to four blood samples per farm from either cattle and sheep moving from areas known to be affected by SBV. Cattle and sheep moving to Scotland from the area south of a line from Lincolnshire, to the Severn Estuary, will be eligible for the testing.

Knowing whether SBV is present, either on their farm or in the local area, could help farmers to make informed choices about the timing of breeding.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “News of any emerging disease is always concerning for farmers and livestock keepers”.

“However, we now have a clearer idea of how the virus spreads and the relatively short time taken for animals to develop immunity. By testing animals that have been recently moved to Scotland we will get an early warning if the virus arrives in Scotland and will be able to trace its spread.”

“This will allow farmers to make informed decisions about their breeding schedule which may help to minimise the impact of the virus and is an excellent example of Government and industry working together to face a common threat.”

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