Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann has expressed his alarm at reports from the Republic of Ireland that the Schmallenberg virus has been found in a number of its early lambing flocks.
Mr Swann explained it was at the end of 2011 when the Schmallenberg virus was first identified and was found to cause foetal abnormalities in sheep, cattle and goats.
From then it spread rapidly through Europe and was detected in the Republic of Ireland for the first time on 30 October 2012. It would be detected in Northern Ireland the very next day.
Mr Swann said: “Whilst the virus itself may only cause mild symptoms in livestock, such as fever and an occasional drop in milk yield in dairy cattle, the real problems occur if cattle become infected when pregnant as it can commonly lead to abortion or malformations in the foetus. This can cause significant losses to individual herds
“Whilst reports of the virus had died down over recent years, I am alarmed that it appears to have re-emerged with some vigour in the Republic over recent months with it being found in a number of early lambing flocks.”
“It is believed that the virus is most commonly spread by midges, so it is possible that animals may have been infected last year but are only now showing real signs at spring lambing or calving. According to the Irish authorities the virus was also making its way northwards on the island, so I fear we may see local incidence rates grow quickly.
“I would urge all local farmers to show caution and vigilance. The Schmallenberg virus leads to abortion and stillbirth of animals – but it also can cause the birth of weak, malformed animals. If farmers believe they have animals infected with the disease, as a first step I would encourage them to contact their local veterinary practitioners for advice and guidance.”
The Ulster Farmers’ Union is also aware of reports of the Schmallenberg virus being identified in the Republic of Ireland.
The organisation’s president Barclay Bell said: “It is concerning that there are a growing number of reports of this virus being found in the north and western counties of the Republic of Ireland. At this stage, there are no reports of this virus having been detected in Northern Ireland this winter, however the UFU is reminding farmers to be vigilant for foetal abnormalities in new born lambs and calves.
“Unfortunately if the virus is detected this will have been as a result of midges spreading the virus in the summer and autumn of last year. The UFU would recommend that farmers contact their vet as quickly as possible in the instance of an outbreak.”
Schmallenberg virus is not a notifiable disease in Northern Ireland and Chief Veterinary Officer Robert Huey has advised farmers to contact their veterinary practitioner if they suspect the presence of the disease in their cattle or sheep.
He said: “Schmallenberg virus is not a notifiable disease, and as such there are currently no movement restrictions in place and no controls are required.
“If farmers suspect the presence of the disease they should contact their veterinary practitioner. Any reported cases of deformed offspring that meet the clinical case definition are investigated by AFBI free of charge.
“A vaccine is available to safeguard against Schmallenberg Virus. The use of the vaccine will not impact farmers’ ability to trade their animals within the EU.
Farmers considering using the vaccine should discuss its application with their Private Veterinary Practitioner.”
The virus gives rise to only mild symptoms in adult cattle which are transient including fever, drop in milk yield and sometimes diarrhoea. In adult sheep few if any signs are exhibited. The main impact appears to be if cattle or sheep become infected when pregnant, as exposure to the disease can lead to abortion or malformations in the foetus.
Further information on the disease is available on the Department’s website: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/schmallenberg-virus.