Four more counties hit by Schmallenberg Virus

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THE number of farms hit by a new livestock disease has dramatically increased in the past few days.

On Friday the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHLVA) said Nationwide there had been 85 sheep and seven cattle infections confirmed on 92 farms, up from just 11 sheep on seven farms on January 31. But today it announced infection has been identified on 121 farms. Eight of the positive cases have been in cattle and 113 in sheep, with Cambridgeshire, Devon, Dorset and Somerset bringing the list of infected counties to 18.

The disease first struck in Norfolk where 15 infected sheep and three cattle have now been reported. In Suffolk one more infected sheep has been reported since Friday bringing the total to 13 sheep and two cattle.

Defra has urged farmers to tell vets of suspected cases so they can be reported to the AHVLA. As we reported last week, farmer Andrew Foulds, who had cases on his West Row farm, urged others to report cases to help fight the disease.

On Monday, the National Farmers’ Union in Suffolk said: “It’s not a notifiable disease but it’s important we work with scientists to get a handle on it to control it. We also need to work with our partners in Europe to know what’s out there.”

An AHLVA spokesman said yesterday: “Reporting will help because we can monitor the spread of it. It helps with ongoing research, as well has having a record of which farms are infected.”

That means that if a vaccine is developed they will know where to start a vaccination programme.

The spokesman added: “We believe it was brought across from Europe by midges, but we’re not 100 per cent certain. None of the infected farms has imported animals from infected areas in Europe.”

SBV is named after the German town where it was first identified in December 2011. The animals are believed to be infected by midges in summer, when the disease shows as a minor illness, but lambs and calves from infected animals are now being born deformed.

Scientists do not know if the animals will continue to have deformed young.