Schmallenberg uncertain future

  • There are now 243 confirmed cases of the Schmallenberg virus on UK farms, as of 13th April 2012. Belgian scientists have now confirmed that three species of biting midges spread the virus, which causes deformed and stillborn lambs and calves.
  • The virus was first detected in August 2011 in Germany and the Netherlands, so as yet the extent of the risks are unknown, with contrasting forecasts of the threat being presented. The midges become active in warm weather and the spread is affected by temperature, wind strength and direction.
  • It is thought that a vaccination is two years away from development, but some suggest that livestock may develop immunity after they have been infected for the first time e.g. as for chicken pox. Others suggest that this sudden rise in cases may indicate that the virus may be able to survive the winter.
  • Symptoms are not detectable in adult animals, but seen in deformed or stillborn animals. The majority of cases have occurred on sheep rather than cattle farms, but this is thought to be because the gestation period for cows is much longer and therefore the full extent of the spread is yet to be seen and may be between 10 and 40% of births.

Therefore the economic and social impacts of the virus are highly uncertain. The disease is not yet a registered identifiable disease, and so as yet there is no financial protection for farmers.

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About Julia Chatterton

Systems modeller with a particular expertise in food, farming and agricultural systems. Working with life cycle assessment methods for over 4 years to assess and analyse the environmental burdens associated with food and other production systems.
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