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Killer virus ‘is moving north’ warn experts
3:42pm Thursday 1st March 2012 in Countryfile
A killer virus with no cure could prove catastrophic for the UK’s farming industry, experts have warned.
After sweeping across Europe, the Schmallenberg virus has now reached England, although there had been no reported cases in the north as we went to press.
Symptoms include abnormalities in newborn animals, which may be born alive, dead at term or aborted following infection of the mother.
Malformations observed to date include bent limbs, fixed joints and brain deformities and marked damage to the spinal cord. Some animals are born with a normal outer appearance, but have nervous signs such as a “dummy” presentation or blindness, ataxia, recumbency, an inability to suck and, sometimes, fits.
There is no treatment or cure for the virus, which has been found in sheep, goats and cattle.
Chairman of the NFU’s livestock board, Alistair Mackintosh, said the virus, which is named after the German town where it was discovered last year, has “the potential to become a catastrophe in the UK”.
After the first cases in Germany, the virus spread to Holland in the autumn, arriving in East Anglia and Kent early this year. Last week, there was a case reported in Wiltshire, suggesting that the virus is moving north.
Experts fear more flocks of sheep are affected, but the full extent will only be known when lambing begins in earnest later this month and next month.
Schmallenberg is believed to be spread by midges and is not thought to be a danger to humans, NFU delegate and sheep farmer Frank Langrish said it could hit farmers harder than bluetongue,.
“Ewes scanned in lamb are empty,” he said. “The losses are ten per cent from re-absorption alone. Deformed lambs account for another 15 per cent. It will be worse than bluetongue.”
The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency is keeping its website regularly updated at defra.gov.uk/ahvla.