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Defra has been working with the Animal Health and Vetinary Laboratories Agency to track cases of the Schmallenberg virus in the UK. Read more about the virus and its transmission on the Defra website.
Experts say that although an outbreak of the Schmallenberg virus would be bad news for livestock farmers, it is not nearly as bad as a bluetongue outbreak.
Schmallenberg only causes mild symptoms in adult livestock and affects less than a third of newborn animals.
Bluetongue spread to the UK from the Continent in 2007, and prompted an emergency response of widespread vaccination. There were fears it could have killed 25-30% of the country's sheep.
The Schmallenberg virus originated in Germany and is carried on the wind by midges. Outbreaks have tended to coincide with midge seasons during hotter weather. There is no evidence of any health risk to humans, but symptoms in livestock include:
- Causes mild symptoms in adult cattle such as fever and diarrhoea
- Reduces milk in dairy cows
- Animals that have been infected are immune
- Two-30% of infected sheep, cattle and goats give birth to deformed or stillborn offspring
Scientists who thought that midges carrying the Schmallenberg virus had died over the winter now believe some survived and are circulating the virus in the UK.
Professor Peter Mertens of the Institute of Animal Health said:
The Schmallenberg virus, which causes cows and sheep to give birth to deformed or stillborn offspring, could be making a comeback, tests have shown.
Test carried out on around 150 cattle and more than 1,000 sheep belonging to the Royal Veterinary College since March have shown that a small number of animals which had previously tested negative for the disease have now tested positive.
The Schmallenberg virus first emerged last year in the Netherlands and Germany. It is thought that virus-carrying midges were blown across the Channel where they infected 276 farms in the UK since early 2012.