After three cows and one calf in Ceredigion were found to have traces of SBV antibodies in their system, the Farmer’s Union of Wales (FUW) have asked farmers to be careful.
The development has also been described as concerning by the union, which said the history of the animals suggested they picked up the infection while on a holding up to a year ago.
Animal health and welfare committee chairman for the FUW Dr Catherine Nakielny said: “I would reiterate the warning we put out in January that all farmers in Wales need to be on the lookout for any unusually high incidences of abortion or congenital abnormalities — deformed lambs, swollen heads, weak lambs etc. They should report anything unusual to their veterinarian, especially given the recent developments.”
According to the union, the presence of the disease in the country was not unexpected. With this in mind, the Animal Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), the Welsh government and the Wales Animal Health and Welfare Strategy Steering Group have kept SBV under close scrutiny since its arrival in Britain last year.
July this year saw 275 farms in the UK reporting positive for SBV and, of these, 53 were in cattle, 219 in sheep and three in both. Dr Nakielny said: “There is a strong need to continue to monitor SBV in Wales and, to this end, livestock farmers should be vigilant and report suspicions to their private veterinary surgeon.”
“SBV is not currently a notifiable disease in the UK, but farmers need to remember that test samples taken from suspect animals will still be paid for by government for the time being,” she added.
It remains possible that midges could continue to spread SBV in Britain through the autumn and into the winter, but the FUW hopes the poor weather which has blighted the industry over the summer will reduce the risk of transmission.
There is no known risk to human health from SBV, but the advice for pregnant women is to remain cautious around farm animals and to follow strict hygiene procedures, the union has stressed.
Advice to farmers is to make use of two AHVLA programmes of enhanced surveillance for foetal deformities and for acute SBV disease in cattle.
Experts are hoping that immunity to the virus may be achieved by the 2013 tupping season, which could happen through exposure to infected midges or through the use of a vaccine.
Farmers are being advised to use products that repel or control biting insects prior to tupping season and in early pregnancy. However, Dr Nakielny explained that the likely benefit of using these products is uncertain as midges are widespread and appear to be transmitting the virus.
But other measures, such as housing ewes and removing muck heaps to prevent breeding habitats in and around the vicinity of housed sheep may also reduce exposure to midges, FUW said.