Highly-infectious notifiable disease confirmed in Northern Ireland

A highly-infectious viral disease affecting sheep and goats has been confirmed in Northern Ireland in recent weeks.

The disease, Maedi Visna (MV), is mainly transmitted through the ingestion of milk from an infected sheep, but it can also be spread within flocks through direct contact or contamination.

Whilst there had been speculation that NI would be considered non accredited for MV as of Monday 14 February, it is understood that this is not the case - as it stands, NI remains MV accredited.

The virus does not affect people, so there is no impact on human health.

Blue spraying something...
A can of blue spray is never far away, and nor is an animal in need of it.
Blue spraying something...
A can of blue spray is never far away, and nor is an animal in need of it.
Blue spraying something... A can of blue spray is never far away, and nor is an animal in need of it.

The current situation has been updated on the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs website, which states: “MV is currently widespread amongst sheep in most industrial countries, including Great Britain (GB). “Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) notified DAERA of three rams from a NI flock which tested positive for MV in Scotland, and the other two positive rams were detected here as a result of forward tracings.

“Movement restrictions have been put in place on the affected holdings and a veterinary epidemiology investigation is underway to determine source and spread of the disease.

Officials are working closely with stakeholders, SRUC and GB/ROI colleagues to determine next steps which will be informed by the ongoing epidemiological investigation.”

What are the clinical signs of MV?

MV is an infectious, incurable and very slow developing condition which causes wasting and failing.

The main clinical signs are progressive paralysis, wasting, arthritis and chronic mastitis.

MV has a long incubation period and cannot be detected early in an animal’s life.

The signs are not normally visible until adulthood.


Keeping NI free from MV is vital for our animal health and trading status.

As part of its surveillance programme, the department now samples any new arrivals into NI from outside the island of Ireland, for the presence of the disease.

Animals imported from MV non accredited flocks in GB will be sampled in isolation five months after importation.

Animals from MV accredited free flocks and from mainland Europe will be sampled on arrival.

The Department would urge farmers to think carefully before importing sheep from GB or mainland Europe and remember that:

- Any sheep coming into NI from GB must either be from a flock that is accredited free of disease, or

- Have been held in isolation for 30 days and tested for MV, with negative results, prior to import. (These sheep will also have to move into a pre-approved isolation premises and undergo a test at five months post import).

Animals subsequently found to be infected with MV will either be re-exported or slaughtered without compensation.

Movement restrictions will also be placed on the holding.

MV is a notifiable disease.

If you suspect disease you must inform your local DAERA Direct Office immediately.

Failure to do so can be deemed an offence.