A RARE cattle and sheep virus has spread to an Irish herd from Europe.
The Department of Agriculture confirmed that a case of Schmallenberg Virus has been found in a cattle foetus in a Cork herd.
It is the first time the virus has ever been found here.
Vets are hopeful that the outbreak can be contained given the short infectious cycle of the virus and the fact that cold, frosty weather prevents its spread by limiting insect activity.
There is no evidence, to date, of the virus being spread directly from animal to animal except from pregnant cows and ewes to their offspring.
If a pregnant animal contracts the virus, they either abort the foetus or else give birth to partially developed or deformed calves and lambs.
The department is now investigating the source of the infection in Cork amid suspicions it may have a UK link.
The major concern is that the virus -- if it spreads -- could threaten Ireland's main lambing season in February with over three million lambs set to be born over 10 weeks.
The discovery came despite a major awareness campaign to keep Ireland free from the virus which has been sweeping through European cattle and sheep stocks.
A total of 10 EU countries have confirmed cases of Schmallenberg Virus since early 2011 -- with the UK particularly badly hit over recent months.
Last spring, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney ordered a series of precautionary tests throughout Ireland -- with 48 samples all proving negative.
The Department of Agriculture urged all livestock owners to be vigilant about the disease -- and said the primary impact is on cattle and sheep in the early stages of pregnancy.
However, department vets will continue to sample for the disease amid hopes that the virus can be contained through normal methods.