IT WAS confirmed yesterday that a tup in Orkney has tested positive for the Smallenberg virus – representing a massive leap north for the disease, which entered the UK last year in the south-east of England.
The disease, which affects sheep and cattle, was first identified as a new virus on German and Dutch farms in 2010 and it is spread via midges. However, this case – found far from an infected area – follows the purchase of the tup from an infected area.
The disease, which does not affect humans, causes relatively mild conditions in cattle and sheep. But where infection takes place during the early stage of pregnancy, it can result in congenital disorders in lambs and calves, stillbirths and abortions.
National Farmers Union of Scotland president Nigel Miller, who is also a Borders livestock farmer and vet, confirmed last night that the ram had been brought in from an SBV-risk area and had tested positive for the disease.
“Contact animals will be tested, although it is hoped that the disease will not have spread. The weather has been cold recently, which inhibits insect vectors such as midges and, therefore, it is likely that any potential spread will be blocked.”
It is just over a week since The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reported positive SBV samples on farms in North Yorkshire and Northumberland. This prompted NFUS to advise Scottish livestock producers importing stock from SBV-risk areas to screen animals for the virus.
Miller said: “The tup’s owner is to be commended for conducting the test and the event underlines the need for all livestock farmers importing stock from SBV-risk areas to test animals for the disease”
Miller admitted that with no structured “sentinel” surveillance in northern England or Scotland, it was possible the disease was already circulating in the south of Scotland.
“Schmallenberg is a relatively new disease and we are not yet familiar with all its attributes, however, modelling suggests the disease could become established in Scotland south of the Clyde and Forth valleys.”
George Milne, of the National Sheep Association, viewed yesterday news with concern. “If it is in Orkney, where else is it? How many other sheep will it have contacted and how many others are already infected?” He added that he would push for an early meeting with the Scottish Government chief vet to discuss the issue.
A vaccine is being developed, but this has still to undergo trials to demonstrate its safety. Miller thought it might be available next year, which would be when it would be most useful in Scotland.
“Luckily, it appears that livestock develop immunity to Schmallenberg relatively quickly,” he said. “NFU Scotland is running workshops with the support of MSD Veterinarians to ensure members are aware of the latest developments and options for minimising the disease’s impacts.”
SAC Consulting Veterinary Services group manager Brian Hosie stressed the importance of post-movement testing, adding that farmers should take advantage of the scheme. “We cannot afford to drop our guard against the threat of disease.”