Farm Ireland

Saturday 20 January 2018

Number of deadly Schmallenberg cases to spike

The Schmallenberg virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in adult cattle
The Schmallenberg virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in adult cattle
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

The recent heatwave could drive up infection levels for the deadly Schmallenberg virus throughout Ireland, a leading British disease expert has warned.

The virus, which results in deformed births in cattle and sheep, is spread by midges. Numbers of the insect have increased hugely due to the recent warm weather.

"Higher temperatures increase the number of midges and increase their feeding activity, therefore helping to spread the disease faster and more thoroughly," explained Peter Mertens, head of the Vector-borne Viral Diseases Programme at Pirbright, England.

He said higher midge numbers could lead to "blanket coverage" of the Schmallenberg virus nationally.


Despite scientific experts warning that the Schmallenberg virus will spread throughout the country by the end of the year, sales of a vaccine to protect against it are limited to areas where farmers have already been hit by the condition.

It is estimated that around 100,000 doses of vaccine Bovilis SBV, manufactured by MSD Animal Health, have been sold since it came onto the market in mid-June this year.

Sales of the vaccine and interest in its use appear to be limited to areas where farmers have already experienced the deadly effects of the disease.

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However, Mr Mertens warned that livestock with no previous exposure to the disease were most at risk.

"Flocks and herds that have already experienced the virus are likely to have a significant level of antibody protection against it. The higher-risk herds and flocks are those that have not been exposed to the virus already," Mr Mertens said.

He described the consequences of viral infection in a herd or flock during the high risk pregnancy periods (second month in sheep and third to fifth month in cattle) as devastating for the farmers involved.


"Based on the research I've seen so far, the vaccine would give a very significant level of protection in vaccinated animals, provided the vaccine is administered before pregnancy," maintained Mr Mertens.

Fergal Morris, veterinary adviser with MSD Animal Health, said farmer attendance at local information meetings varied widely depending on whether farmers in the area had lost animals to the virus.

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