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Schmallenberg virus confirmed in a bovine foetus in County Cork

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has today confirmed that tests carried out at the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, have identified the presence of Schmallenberg virus (SBV) in samples from a bovine foetus submitted for post mortem examination from a farm in Co. Cork.

The Department has been carrying out surveillance since February 2012 and this is the first time that the presence of the virus has been identified in Ireland. As the virus has been spreading rapidly across Europe over the past year, finding evidence of the virus in Ireland is not unexpected. The Department is carrying out epidemiological investigations seeking to establish the likely source of infection. The virus does not given rise to any human health concerns, nor has it any food safety implications. In general, the virus causes mild disease in adult cattle, whilst it is not seen to cause any clinical signs in adult sheep or goats. The clinical signs which were seen in cattle in Europe during 2011 and 2012 are transient, and include fever, a drop in milk production and sometimes diarrhoea. When infection occurs in animals that are not pregnant, the impact is very limited. However if ruminant animals are infected during the early stages of pregnancy, they may subsequently abort or give birth to malformed offspring.

Whilst Schmallenberg virus is not a notifiable disease, the Department will continue to carry out surveillance for Schmallenberg virus. Farmers are asked to contact their veterinary practitioner if they encounter cases of aborted foetuses or newborn animals showing malformations or nervous signs. Veterinary practitioners should then contact their Regional Veterinary Laboratory if they suspect infection with the virus.  Currently there is no licensed vaccine available.

Note for Editors

Schmallenberg is a newly discovered virus of ruminants that was identified in Germany and the Netherlands in 2011, and is named after the German town where the virus was first identified. To date more than 6,000 outbreaks of the disease have been confirmed in 10 countries across Europe. In January 2012, cases were confirmed in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and England. Since then the virus has also been confirmed in Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Denmark and Switzerland. Evidence of previous infection has also been found in blood samples taken from animals in Austria, Finland, Poland, Sweden and it has been spreading across Great Britain during 2012. It has also very recently been isolated from midges in Norway. Ireland has been carrying out surveillance for the virus since February 2012.

Schmallenberg virus is in the Simbu serogroup of the Orthobunyavirus group. This group of viruses includes many different viruses which occur in Asia, Africa, Middle East and Australia, but this virus has not been identified prior to its first identification in Europe in 2011. The virus is transmitted by insect vectors, and has been confirmed in biting midges in Belgium, Denmark and Norway. Disease may be spread during the vector season (April to November in Ireland), whilst abortions and malformed offspring will be seen from early Spring onwards (in spring calving/lambing herds/flocks) as a result of infection in the previous year. The disease is generally spread from animal to animal through the action of biting midges. Animals however are only infectious for a relatively short period after being infected and then develop a protective immunity. A specific risk is associated with the introduction of pregnant animals into a herd - whilst the dam may not be infectious, the foetus/calf may be.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has determined that the Schmallenberg virus is unlikely to cause illness in people. The risk posed by milk and meat is also considered negligible by the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE). Whilst there may be concerns about the risks posed by new and emerging diseases, the evidence from across Europe to date shows that the overall impact of Schmallenberg virus on animal health and production is not significant. Any restrictions on trade are considered disproportionate and thus unjustified. No restrictions have been placed on movements from the farm, in line with the policy in other affected EU Member States.

Further information on Schmallenberg virus is available on the Department's website - http://www.agriculture.gov.ie/animalhealthwelfare/diseasecontrol/schmallenbergvirus/

Date Released: 30 October 2012