RVC confirms SBV is circulating in the UK

Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) have confirmed the Schmallenberg Virus (SBV) is still circulating in the UK.

A research team at the RVC collaborated with colleagues at the Institute for Animal Health’s Pirbright site in an attempt to ascertain the current SBV situation.

The virus is alleged to be transmitted through bites from midges and, according to researchers, the UK’s midge season is now approaching its peak. In preparation for this seasonal peak, tests were carried out on the RVC’s 150 cattle and 1,000 sheep, with information then sent to Pirbright.

Leader of the Pirbright team Professor Peter Mertens explained that hopes of SBV going away had been dashed. He said: “Animals that had originally been negative for antibodies against the virus became positive between March and June 2012, indicating that the virus has survived the winter and is circulating here during the current midge season. We had hoped it might simply burn itself out and fail to make a reappearance this year, but this has not been the case.”

Although the disease is still present, Mertens pointed out that it was unlikely many animals would be affected by the virus as few have been pregnant during the midge season so far. However, he said: “As the year goes on, that will obviously change. It appears unlikely that a vaccine will be available and licensed for use in the UK for this season, so it is very important to consider what other control measures might be supported by the results of scientific research.”

Spring this year saw the confirmation of three cases of deformed lambs caused by SBV at the RVC. The deformities spurred the curiosity of RVC researchers to determine the prevalence of the infection in the rest of the flock.

Professor Joe Brownlie from the RVC said DNA samples from every animal in the dairy herd and sheep flock were taken and tested by scientists at Pirbright to look for previous SBV infection. Test results showed that around 3% of the RVC’s animals had been infected with SBV and now carried antibodies. Re-tests showed the same amount of animals to be SBV positive. However, Brownlie added that some previously negative animals had tested positive this time.

Although farms in England have seen a limited impact from the disease, chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens stressed that elsewhere in Europe things were different. Gibbens said: “It is important to be aware that the Schmallenberg Virus has over-wintered in the UK and is circulating again this year. As the disease is circulating, it also means that the offspring of livestock in areas that have remained uninfected, until the time that animals are mated, are most at risk.”

Researchers have said that it is unclear how or where the virus has survived over the winter. Results to confirm how the disease is transmitted are also still to be published.


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