Livestock producers urged to discuss Schmallenberg

Scottish livestock farmers now have access to a vaccine to help protect sheep and cattle against birth defects in their young caused by the Schmallenberg Virus (SBV).

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) has issued the veterinary pharmaceutical company MSD Animal Health, a licence to provide the new ‘Bovilis SBV’ vaccine.

Spread by midges, SBV was first identified on German and Dutch farms in 2011 and has since spread throughout Europe with more than 1750 cases in the UK.

Exposure to SBV can result in relatively mild conditions in cattle and sheep but where infection takes place during the early stages of pregnancy; it can result in congenital disorders of lambs and calves. Infection may also be linked to poor breeding performance.

The availability of a vaccine means it may be possible to vaccinate sheep and cattle before they become pregnant and Scottish farmers, particularly those in the South West, should be discussing with their vets whether vaccination could help protect their stock.

NFU Scotland President, and qualified vet, Nigel Miller said: “With a significant number of Scottish livestock likely to be exposed to Schmallenberg virus this summer it is great that our farmers now have the choice to vaccinate and protect their animals.

“The vaccine against SBV is a tool that allows farmers, in discussion with their vets, to proactively manage their animals against exposure to the virus when previous strategies could only be based around breeding in times of low midge and viral activity. While it is easier for sheepkeepers to consider putting rams out later in the year, for most cattle farmers delayed breeding is not an option and, depending on disease risk, vaccination may be of use.

“The first results from our ongoing surveillance of dairy herds across Scotland suggests that the vast majority of our livestock remain naive to SBV. Cold weather ensured that the virus only made sporadic incursions into South West Scotland last winter.

“However, we know the virus can over-winter and with temperatures now rising, there is likely to be more activity in the coming months.

“Our experience and knowledge of SBV is less than three years old and researchers across Europe continue to learn more about the virus each month. It is a credit to the scientists and licencing authorities that a vaccine has been developed and made available in such a relatively short time and that vaccine may prove to be a potent shield against this disease.”

NFU Scotland, working with SRUC and Biobest, has established a network of dairy farms across the whole of Scotland where bulk milk tanks are being tested on a month basis for the presence of Schmallenberg Virus (SBV) antibodies. To date 91 tests have returned negative with five test results still outstanding.

Schmallenberg Virus (SBV) is a virus that was first identified in Europe in 2011. It affects sheep cattle and goats and is spread by midges. The acute, active phase of the infection presents with fairly mild symptoms, typically diarrhoea, fever and milk drop with a rapid recovery over several days. There may be some accompanying drop in fertility associated with this stage.

If infection occurs during the early stages of pregnancy, between 25-50 days for sheep and 70-120 days in cattle, abnormalities can occur in the foetus that may be born alive or dead or it may be aborted. Malformations can include bent limbs and fixed joints, twisted neck or spine, a domed appearance to the skull, short lower jaw and brain deformities. Some animals are born looking normal but have nervous signs such as blindness or a dummy presentation – uncoordinated movement, recumbency, an inability to suck and sometimes convulsions.

Farmers are advised to contact their veterinary surgeon if they encounter any of the symptoms of either the acute stage of the disease or malformed foetuses and abortions.