Farmers who suspect cases of Schmallenberg virus (SBV) in their flock have been urged to submit lambs for post-mortem examination to help industry experts gain ‘the true levels of the virus’.
The post-mortem diagnostic service at John Warren ABP in County Durham, established by AHDB Beef and Lamb, recently detected the infection on at least four holdings in the North East of England, including Northumberland.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has also confirmed cases of SBV in Devon, Dorset, Cornwall, Somerset, Co Laios and Co Cork but farmers worry the outbreak has already hit much further afield, with many already lambing new-borns with severe deformities.
Ben Strugnell of Farm Post-mortem Ltd, which operates the service at J Warren ABP, said it was likely SBV had returned because levels of immunity had dropped following the previous hit in 2011/12.
He said: "It is very important that, if producers encounter lambs with skeletal deformities, these are submitted for post-mortem examination so that appropriate samples can be taken to establish whether Schmallenberg is the case.
"The best advice for producers is to contact their vet, who can provide information on the best way to arrange a post-mortem."
Mr Strugnell added farmers must be particularly cautious of younger sheep as they may not have been infected by the virus before. He said although a vaccination is not currently in circulation, it would be ‘too late’ to vaccinate sheep which are due to lamb in Spring.
"However, it is important that we ascertain the true levels of the virus, because this will help determine whether there is a need to vaccinate later in the year," Mr Strugnell said.