Much ado about nothing
The National Farmers Union of Scotland yesterday went on the front foot and asked the Scottish Government to consider active surveillance to prevent the Schmallenberg virus – which affects cattle and sheep – from establishing a foothold in this country.
This proactive move follows research carried out by the Royal Veterinary College and the Institute for Animal Health, which suggested that the virus – which causes deformities in newborn calves and lambs – had over-wintered in the south of England and was now back in circulation.
Union president Nigel Miller said that while Scotland had no reported cases of SBV, there needed to be an early-warning system to check if the virus was moving northwards.
“In the absence of a vaccine and with the virus believed to be active once again, more robust surveillance tracking the virus would allow those with cattle and sheep in Scotland to plan ahead were it to arrive here.”
Part of the Union plan to monitor possible infection would look at using sentinel animals and monitor them for infection. Miller, a qualified vet as well as a Borders livestock farmer, said that such was the level of concern over the disease that many Scottish farmers would happily volunteer to be part of that process and provide stock for testing. He included his own farm as a possible monitor site.
“Active surveillance is important as it may allow flockmasters and herd managers to minimise any potential impact of SBV by modifying their breeding plans. Scottish action would also dovetail with any surveillance undertaken south of the Border.”
Much of the current concern relates to infection during the breeding season, with Miller stating that the timing of the potential disease progression was crucial.
“If we knew the virus was on its way, those with autumn calving cows and sheep could consider allowing their animals to be exposed to the virus before breeding, therefore developing immunity before becoming pregnant.
For sheep, if the virus is active, it may also be appropriate to move the breeding period back to later in the year when midges are less active.”
These important decisions underlined the value of knowing just where the disease was and how best to manage it until such time as an effective vaccine was produced, he said.
“In the meantime, we urge keepers to remain vigilant to the clinical signs of the disease and investigate any suspicious symptoms. Given one of the more noticeable symptoms is a drop in milk yield, dairy producers will play a crucial role in surveillance.”
Miller also warned those importing stock from the continent where the disease originated in 2011 and where it has again flared up to check thoroughly with their vets before doing so.
“As a midge-borne virus, the biggest threat is from incursions of infected midges but, as always, imports will play a role and keepers are urged to seek veterinary advice before importing animals from areas know to be affected by the disease.”
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Source: the scotsman