Schmallenberg virus: UK’s lambs being wiped out by killer disease

Tamara Cohen

Last updated at 1:54 PM on 27th February 2012

A virus which causes lambs to be born dead or with serious deformities is sweeping farms.

The Schmallenberg virus, which also affects cattle, has already struck 74 farms in southern and eastern England, killing thousands of animals.

Some farmers have reported losing 20 per cent of their lambs since it arrived in the country last month from Europe, where 1,000 farms are affected.

Deadly: Farmers fear Schmallenberg disease will spread across the country

Deadly: Farmers fear Schmallenberg disease will spread across the country

Lambs with the virus are  either stillborn or have horrific deformities such as fused  limbs, misshapen heads and twisted necks which mean they cannot survive.

Scientists are urgently trying to find out how the disease spreads to prevent it blighting Britain’s livestock like the 2001 foot  and mouth outbreak which resulted in millions of animals being slaughtered.

The Food Standards Agency insists the risk to humans is low, and those who have been exposed to the virus have not experienced any adverse effects.

But the National Farmers’ Union has called the outbreak a ‘potential catastrophe’ for the industry which is already suffering from the economic downturn.

Named after the small German town where it was first spotted last summer, the disease is thought to have been brought to Britain by midges.

Spread: Cows are believed to be stronger than sheep but Schmallenberg virus has spread to cattle

The Schmallenberg virus has spread to cattle sparking fears for livestock

Deformed: Farmers are seeing lambs's limbs fused together and joints that don't work

Farmers are seeing lambs’s limbs fused together and joints that don’t work

QA on the virus

Ewes show no sign of illness until they give birth, by which time it is too late to save their young. As the lambing season has only just begun, the full impact of  the tragedy is likely to be felt in the coming weeks.

Farmers have described the heartbreak of having to shoot lambs born deformed and unable to suckle to save them from a slow death. One farmer said he had put down more lambs than at any point in the past 20 years. Others described it as ‘soul-destroying’.

Alistair Mackintosh of the NFU said: ‘For any business to lose 20 per cent of your stock would be a huge blow. For a farmer it is catastrophic. If it was 50 per cent you would be put out of action.

‘I know one farmer who says 10 per cent of his 6,000 ewes have become barren, so that is 600 animals producing nothing.’

In Germany and Holland the virus was detected in adult cattle, causing  symptoms including reduced milk yield. In Britain the calving season has not yet begun, so the impact on foetuses is not yet clear.

The counties worst affected so far are Norfolk, Suffolk, East Sussex and Kent but the virus has already spread along the south coast to Cornwall and parts of south Wales.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has not ruled out direct transmission between animals but said a ban on imports would be pointless as the disease is already here.

In 2007 millions of sheep and goats on British farms were killed as a result of bluetongue virus, which was also brought in by midges.

It has now been eradicated but farmers are concerned that a vaccine for Schmallenberg does not exist  and could take 18 months to two years to develop.

Here’s what other readers have said. Why not add your thoughts,
or debate this issue live on our message boards.

The comments below have not been moderated.

Something else we didn’t want from Europe but got anyway.

The Schmallenberg virus is NOT zoonotic (i.e. transferable to humans). This is alarmist reporting of the lowest order…

So why didn’t the government stop importing EU lamb when they knew this was happening? It’s the first thing the French did when there was FM here.
– Trevor, Ammanford, Wales, 26/2/2012
—————————————————————————————————— Amazingly you don’t know what a midge is. Even more amazingly 318 other readers have similar brain power

s it by midges or is it nuclear radiation fall out? from Fukishima. The Japanese tsunami was March last year and affected the nuclear power facility so has radiation leaked out to Europe.
– Frank, Brighton, 27/2/2012 12:16
——————————————————————————————————— It’s midges you fool. Have you still got your tinfoil hat on?

uttely ridiculous scare-mongering story.The sheep were infected back in October you dim-wits,as for people catching it………..give me strength….

“We must force the people to see how much they need us” —–V for VENDETTA

this bound too be some what down too farming practices and another reason for people too consider being a veggie like myself, my family and my pets

Is it by midges or is it nuclear radiation fall out? from Fukishima. The Japanese tsunami was March last year and affected the nuclear power facility so has radiation leaked out to Europe.

Makes very little difference to the Lambs, die from disease, be killed because of a deformity, or be killed to be made into chops.================As usual the big picture is all about profit, and if the Farmer can afford a new Range Rover this year.==================You guessed right I don’t eat meat.

This will not affect us, as the beautiful sweet young lamb is exported to France. The stuff we get is year old -almost mutton.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress | Designed by: Premium WordPress Themes | Thanks to Themes Gallery, Bromoney and Wordpress Themes