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Scientists confirm virus still circulating
RESEARCHERS at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), in collaboration with scientists at the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright, have confirmed that Schmallenberg virus (SBV) is still circulating in the UK as the current midge season approaches its peak.
Tests were carried out on around 150 cattle and more than 1,000 sheep belonging to the RVC, where MSc student Corin Jack is studying Schmallenberg epidemiology.
Professor Peter Mertens, who leads the Pirbright team, said: “Animals that had originally been negative for antibodies against the virus became positive between March and June 2012, indicating 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 it would appear this has not been the case.”
Professor Joe Brownlie from the RVC said: “In the spring we had three cases of deformities caused by Schmallenberg in lambs from our flock.”
Chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said: “So far, we have seen a relatively limited impact from the disease on English farms and those in the rest of Europe, but we understand it can be distressing for farmers.
“It is important farmers are aware that Schmallenberg virus has overwintered in the UK and is circulating again this year.
Studies so far have shown there is a good level of immunity in animals which have already been infected, so it means that the disease is infecting animals and building immunity at a time of year when the symptoms of the disease in most animals are not serious.
“As the disease is circulating, it also means the offspring of livestock in areas that have remained uninfected until the time that animals are becoming mated are most at risk.”
A lot remains unclear, for example it is not known exactly how or where the virus has survived the winter and the Entomology Group at Pirbright is still to announce the results of their work to confirm biting midges as a major route of transmission, but this new information provides an important impetus for future research.The teams involved intend to continue studying the emerging threat from SBV and anticipate further testing during the late autumn, after the autumn calving season and during the early pregnancy period.