Thousands of lambs have been killed by a new virus that is threatening the survival of many British farms.
The Schmallenberg virus causes lambs to be born dead or with serious deformities such as fused limbs and twisted necks, which mean they cannot survive.
Scientists are urgently trying to find out how the disease, which also affects cattle, spreads and how to fight it, as the number of farms affected increases by the day.
So far, 74 farms across southern and eastern England have been hit by the virus, which arrived in this country in January.
A thousand farms in Europe have reported cases since the first signs of the virus were seen in the German town of Schmallenberg last summer.
The National Farmers Union has called it a potential "catastrophe" and warned farmers to be vigilant. "This is a ticking time bomb," said Alastair Mackintosh, of the NFU. "We don't yet know the extent of the disease. We only find out the damage when sheep and cows give birth, and by then it's too late."
It is unclear exactly how the disease arrived in Britain, but the leading theory is that midges carried the virus across the Channel or North Sea in the autumn. However, scientists cannot yet rule out transmission of the disease from animal to animal.
Infected ewes do not show any symptoms of the virus until they give birth, with horrific results. Farmers have described delivering the deformed and stillborn animals as heartbreaking.
The lambing season has only just begun, which means that the full impact of the disease will not be felt until the weather warms up and millions more animals are born.
On the Continent, some farms have lost half of their lambs. So far the worst hit in Britain have lost 20 per cent, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Approximately 16 million lambs are born in Britain every year and sell at market for about £100 each. The effect of the disease on farms that are already struggling in the downturn could be severe.
"For any business to lose 20 per cent of your stock would be a huge blow," said Mr Mackintosh. "For a farmer to lose 20 per cent of your flock is catastrophic. If it was 50 per cent you would be put out of action.
"I was talking to one who has 10,000 sheep. If he loses even five per cent of the animals born this year, that's a hell of a lot of lambs. I know another who says 10 per cent of his ewes have become barren. He has 6,000 ewes, so that is 600 animals producing nothing."
The Food Standards Agency has sought to allay any fears about eating lamb, although little is known about the virus so far.
The Agency said: "Any risk to consumers through the food chain is likely to be low. No illness has been reported to date in humans exposed to animals infected with Schmallenberg virus."
The worst affected counties are Norfolk, Suffolk, East Sussex and Kent, but the virus has spread all along the south coast to Cornwall.
Farmers fear the disease may spread to larger flocks in the north of England, Wales and Scotland. In Europe, Germany, Holland and France have suffered worst, while recent cases have been reported in Italy and Luxembourg.
John, a farmer from East Sussex who wanted to remain anonymous, said he had lost 40 out of 400 lambs so far, at a cost to his business of more than £4,000.
"I've had to put more lambs down in the past month than I have done in the past 20 years. Every one is a serious blow to our finances. But it's an emotional thing too," he said.
There are also fears that the virus may be seen later this year among cows, which have a longer gestation period.
Five of the British farms have seen cattle affected, with calves aborted at six months of pregnancy.
Cows are thought to be more robust than sheep and therefore more resistant, but Schmallenberg virus could still reduce milk yields and put pressure on a dairy industry that is already suffering, says Mr Mackintosh. "From what I hear, we are likely to see weak calves that take a lot of expense and nursing to get going again. Having to do that will hit a business hard."
The last confirmed midge-borne virus to hit the British farming industry was bluetongue in 2007, but a series of trade restrictions and a vaccine averted disaster.
This time there is no vaccine, and Defra says a ban on imports would not work, because the disease "is already here". A spokesman said: "Defra is taking this seriously. We track emerging diseases. There is work going on across Europe and the amount we know is improving rapidly. We are keeping everything under review."
Its website says "farmers and vets should remain vigilant and report any suspicious cases to AHVLA [the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency] for testing as part of our enhanced surveillance". However, farmers are not yet legally required to notify authorities of an outbreak, leading some in the industry to fear it may already be much more widespread than figures suggest.
Nigel Miller, the president of the NFU in Scotland said: "The escalation and range of cases is deeply concerning and some experts are now suggesting that the volume of cases being seen is an indication that this is, in fact, the second year of infection.
"If that is the case then it raises the worrying prospect that the virus may have an effective overwintering mechanism."
The AHVLA identifies Schmallenberg as one of a group of viruses "typically primarily spread by biting insect vectors, such as midges and mosquitoes, although the routes of Schmallenberg virus transmission have not yet been confirmed. The potential for direct transmission (ie direct from one animal to another) is therefore, as yet, unknown."
It said: "There is unlikely to be a risk to human health from Schmallenberg virus; but this is not yet certain."
I don't have the facts to make a statement, but I have a theory. It's based on the radiation fallout that has mutated all kinds of bad bugs, germs, etc. It also causes life to be more fragile. Tell me what you think.
When first reading this I thought it was a bacteria. It reminded me of the first discovery of the Listeria bacteria, causing miscarriages in the cheese factory in Cal. Then reading on they have Identified it as a virus. Very fast identifying and looking for the cause. Very concerning and sad. Praying.
by Nisha Chopra
Kent farms are reporting more cases of a new virus affecting sheep and cattle than almost anywhere else in the country.
Currently 12 farms in the county have seen their sheep affected by the Schmallenberg [SBV] disease - although experts won't reveal exact details.
That is the second highest amount in England - with Norfolk and East Sussex joint first, reporting 14 cases of the midge-borne virus.
More than 70 farms across the UK have been affected and the farming community expects to see more cases as the lambing season progresses.
There is no known cure for the disease that causes abortions, stillbirths and birth defects in cattle and sheep and in adult cattle it can lead to fever, diarrhoea and a decline in milk yields.
It is believed to have come here from infected midges that blew in last summer and autumn but SBV is of no risk to human health.
Isobel Bretherton, spokesman for the National Farmers Union [NFU] South East said: "Sheep farmers would normally expect a small number of abortions and stillbirths, like 2%, but farmers in East Sussex and Kent are seeing a 20% rise.
"Farmers are losing these little lambs as they’re either born dead or survive for a matter of hours. If they do survive they have deformed limbs and jaws, and may have to be humanly destroyed."
It’s understood however that adult sheep exposed to the virus can develop some immunity and continue as breeding stock for the future.
The NFU spokeswoman added: "The Institute for Animal Health, based in the UK, are working with Germany and Holland to find a vaccine but for this time of year it’s a big worry for cattle and sheep farmers as they start lambing and calving in the spring."
A third case of the Schmallenberg virus has been found in a flock of sheep at a Jersey farm.
The virus which is thought to spread through midges causes deformed or stillborn livestock.
Schmallenberg first appeared in Jersey in March when five lambs were born dead and badly deformed.
The States Vet Linda Lowseck said she was waiting for more test results, but she said dairy farmers needed to be cautious.
She said: "There is a concern for farmers because they may have cows which appear perfectly normal now but they are carrying deformed calves which will develop to full size but the cow will not be able to give birth on her own.
"So farmers know they need to be ready to step in to assist or call their vet and they may in the most extreme situation need a caesarean section."
There have been dozens of reports of the Schmallenberg virus across England and cases have been reported in Normandy, France.
The numbers of new cases of Schmallenberg SBV virus, a non-notifiable disease spread by midges, is continuing to decline in the UK, in line with animal health experts’ expectations.
But while new cases in sheep, at 219 farms so far, are becoming less frequent, experts expect to see cases emerge in cattle into the early summer.There are now 254 UK farms - 35 in cattle and 219 in sheep - reporting SBV, which causes deformities and stillbirths in new-born animals. In Suffolk, 12 farms have been confirmed to have the virus in sheep and six in cattle. In Essex, the tally is 11 in sheep and two in cattle.
The decline in the numbers of reporting farms is in line with all European Union countries, where the sheep reports have declined as lambing in ‘at risk’ sheep, ie, those at a critical time of gestation when infection can impact on the foetus, draws to an end.
This is also in line with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ own predictions considering UK farming practices and estimated time of infection occurring in the UK.
Studies on Schmallenberg virus and honeybee colony losses
Studies on Schmallenberg virus and honeybee colony losses
Thursday 10 May 2012
As part of a series of initiatives to closely monitor the development of the Schmallenberg virus (SBV), the European Commission decided, on 8 May, to earmark almost €3 million to support seven member states to carry out scientific studies aiming to gather further information on the SBV. Fourteen projects submitted by seven member states have been selected based on commonly agreed priorities aiming to fill the SBV knowledge gap in three main areas: the mechanism by which the infection is caused (pathogenesis); the transmission pathways, the role of vectors and reservoirs and the host range (epidemiology); as well as the development of suitable analytical methods allowing large-scale testing. The Commission also earmarked almost €3.2 million to support 17 member states to carry out surveillance studies aiming to gather further important information on honeybee colony losses. The aim is to close the knowledge gap and gain a better understanding of the extent of the problem as well as the reasons for the honeybee colony losses. http://www.europolitics.info/sectori...333865-11.html
Number Of Deer Killed By Virus Surging, Hitting Deer In The Region Hard
BY RANDY DOCKENDORF email@example.com
Published: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 1:08 AM CDT
The number of white-tail deer believed to have died from a virus has surged in recent days, hitting the region hard, according to a South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks game warden.
“We have seen a late surge the last three weeks. And from what I have been told, it’s going to get worse,” said Conservation Officer Sam Schelhaas of Yankton.
Most of the dead deer are suspected victims of a hemorrhagic disease, either epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) or a similar disease known as “blue tongue.” The diseases, caused by two separate viruses with similar clinical signs, are common in white-tailed deer and are typically detected in late summer or early fall.
“We’re seeing a lot of deer dying right now,” Schelhaas said. “The first few calls were isolated here and there. Now, in talking to officers in other counties, some of the bigger landowners are finding 10 and 12 dead deer on their property. Hutchinson County has really been hit. They have had a lot of deer deaths.”
Hutchinson County has reported the heaviest losses in southeast South Dakota, which in turn has seen the largest outbreaks this year.
Both EHD and blue tongue are spread by a biting midge and cause extensive internal hemorrhaging.
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