Schmallenberg Virus was big news last summer. Since then, much of the media spotlight has moved away but it has continued to be a very large concern for livestock farmers. It has been announced this week that a Vaccine has been developed and should be available this summer.

The virus, which emerged in the Netherlands and Germany in 2011, can lead to sheep and cattle having stillborn or deformed offspring. The disease is passed between livestock by midge bites.

Reports from farmers suggest that at least 1,700 farms throughout the UK have now tested positive for the SBV virus and the disease has spread to every county in England and Wales, and was recently reported in Scotland. Schmallenberg virus (SBV) also causes fever, diarrhoea and loss of milk production in adult cattle.

At Donaldson’s Vets, we have seen a number of cases in sheep which lambed in December and January and we suspect that this was caused by exposure in early pregnancy last summer. Though there are few reasons to be grateful for our washout summer last year, we suspect that the midge activity dropped off rapidly as the cold summer continued and so those animals which became pregnant later in the season and which lambed later this spring, seem to have been less affected.

The first SBV vaccine, developed by the animal health company Merck MSD, is expected to be available to UK farmers in the summer. The vaccine is of most use before sheep and cattle become pregnant, as exposure to the virus during pregnancy can cause birth defects in the unborn animal. It is welcome news for British farmers to have the choice to vaccinate their animals. The vaccine will give extra assurance against this disease as the natural immunity sheep and cattle develop after initial exposure is not proven to prevent disease the following year.

Some farmers have lost up to 40% of their early lambing flock to the virus. The vaccine will give added reassurance to farmers who were concerned about losing lambs to the disease. Everybody in farming who wants to use it will welcome it as soon as possible. Some flocks need it in the next few weeks to fit in with their breeding programmes. UK farmers will soon be the first in the EU to have access to the vaccine.