Typically, infectious diseases tend to evolve over a long period of time. Diseases can develop to affect new species or can alter to create signs which are more severe, but it is rare that a totally new disease emerges. Yet that is exactly what has occurred with the emergence of Schmallenberg Virus in cattle, sheep and goats.
As it is such a new phenomenon, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the virus but it is thought that it was spread by midges last summer and autumn. Currently, cases have been confirmed in Europe and in the south of England but it is possible that infection is more widespread and that livestock in Yorkshire could be infected.
The disease can cause a decline in milk production in dairy cows but it could easily go undetected at that stage. The most pressing concern is that the virus can cause birth abnormalities and stillbirths in calves and lambs. Since the lambing season is about to commence, there is a concern that a great many sheep could already be infected but not currently be showing signs. The extent of the infection rate might only become apparent as the lambing season progresses.
At Donaldson’s Vets, we have a busy farm animal section. As well as dealing with animals on an individual basis, our Vets are trained to be on the lookout for emerging disease patterns and Schmallenberg Virus has now been added to the list of diseases which are under surveillance. It is our hope that the efforts of governmental Animal Health agencies and the vigilance of Vets ‘in practice’ will rapidly manage to detain the spread of this terrible disease.