Farm Ireland

Monday 19 March 2018

Shock UK losses raise Schmallenberg fears

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Pregnancy scans show dangers to lambs and calves

Pregnancy scanners in Britain have reported potentially devastating losses of calves and lambs, which could be linked to Schmallenberg infection.

Individual scanners have reported early lambing losses as high as 66pc on some farms and empty rates of up to 50pc on some cattle farms.

However, vets have warned that poor nutrition or other infections such as toxoplasmosis, border disease and bluetongue could be to blame for the low scanning rates.

Two further cases of the Schmallenberg virus here in Ireland have been confirmed by veterinary staff in the Department of Agriculture in the past week.

The new cases bring to 13 the total number of farms where Schmallenberg has been confirmed in Ireland.

The 13 farms have so far been confined to counties Wexford and Cork, where tests of aborted calf foetuses have confirmed the presence of genetic material from the virus.

Department of Agriculture officials said that only a minority of the aborted foetuses were malformed and they typically showed up as shortened lower jaws or abnormalities of the central nervous system.

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While these Schmallenberg cases are being discovered now, the dams of these aborted calves would have been infected during the summer or autumn but did not show clinical signs at that time. When asked about the possible extent of Schmallenberg infection, Department officials said they could not predict the number of future cases that might be found.

Scientists are currently working furiously to develop a vaccine, but it is not yet available to farmers.

It is understood that British company MSD Animal Health has lodged an application for regulatory approval and licensing of a vaccine for commercial use with the British Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).

Earlier this year, the European Commission earmarked almost €3m in funding for seven member states to carry out scientific studies aiming to gather further information on the virus.

Signs of the virus in newborn animals and foetuses include congenital abnormalities.

These can range from bent limbs and fixed joints to stiff necks, curved spines and shortened lower jaws.

Animals born alive may show signs of problems with the central nervous system, including 'dummy' calves, blindness, ataxia (co-ordination problems), inability to rise, inability to suck and sometimes fits.

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