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Schmallenberg's speedy spread

THE Schmallenberg virus has now spread to every county of England and Wales, and Scottish farmers have been put on high alert against the threat of the infection progressing north.

England's chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, said this week that there had been a "rapid geographic spread" of the bug since it first appeared earlier this year in the south and east of England.

Biting midges are still regarded as the chief vector of the virus, and it seems England's 2012 summer suited them well. Mr Gibbens said that there was now a firm expectation of losses during the lambing season, as infected ewes produced stillborn or deformed lambs.

As yet no acute cases have been recorded in Scotland, but a small number of animals that had recently moved into Scotland have tested positive for SBV antibodies.

Agricultural bodies here this week joined forces to once again remind livestock keepers of the importance of maintaining good biosecurity, sourcing stock sensibly and seeking veterinary advice if they have concerns about the health of their stock.

Chief Veterinary Officer Sheila Voas said: "In the absence of a vaccine the message to farmers is that they should continue to exercise vigilance, particularly about animal movements, which are the most likely source of SBV infection in Scotland.

"Current evidence from surveillance carried out across Europe suggests that infection with Schmallenberg virus has a relatively low impact. However, farmers should be particularly alert when cows and ewes are in early stages of pregnancy as infection then can lead to problems at lambing or calving time.

"Farmers should exercise caution when introducing new animals into their farm and should consider testing breeding stock for the SBV antibody. They may also wish to test potential purchases prior to movement on to farm – we would suggest that farmers discuss this with their vet.

"Any farmers who encounter foetal abnormalities, stillbirths or newborns showing signs of nervous disease should contact their vet or local SAC Consulting laboratory," she advised.

NFU Scotland's animal health policy manager Penny Johnston said: "Results from the Scottish surveillance programme, part-funded by NFUS, found several premises that had imported SBV-positive animals from high risk areas. While disappointing, these results are unsurprising and given the widespread incidence of the disease elsewhere in GB, Scottish livestock producers need to remain vigilant for signs that the disease is circulating here and report any problems."

NSA Scotland's development officer, George Milne, said: "I am now receiving evidence from some early lambing flocks across parts of England which are reporting significant problems. Clearly if we were to see a similar problem in Scotland then this would be a serious concern for breeding sheep producers.

"This is a worrying time for sheep producers, particularly since there is little that can be done to resolve this, so farmers should remain vigilant and contact their vets if they have concerns."

Brian Hosie of SAC: Consulting Veterinary Services, said: "We encourage all farmers who find aborted or stillborn lambs or calves to speak to their vet and if appropriate submit samples to their local SAC CVS disease surveillance centre for detailed examination."

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