Swann concerned by reports of Schmallenberg virus

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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.

Robin Swann said it was back at the end of 2011 when the Schmallenberg virus was first identified and was found to cause foetal abnormalities in sheep, cattle and goats. It spread rapidly through Europe and was detected in the Republic of Ireland for the first time on 30 October 2012 and in Northern Ireland the very next day.

He added: “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 to lead 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,” he added.

“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.”