Laura Sandys, a Conservative MP for Kent, has called for a ban on the export of UK livestock due to a recent outbreak of the Schmallenberg virus.
Sandys argues that quick action now could prevent the virus from spreading. The BBC quoted her as saying, "There is no treatment or preventative vaccine available, nor are we are clear on how the virus is being transmitted."
To date, 92 UK farms have reported cases of Schmallenberg. The virus is named after the area in Germany where early cases were first reported. Schmallenberg is thought to be spread by biting insects like ticks and mosquitoes, and experts believe the virus entered the UK via small insects that were blown with the winds across the Channel. The first cases were identified in the UK in January.
Schmallenberg causes a variety of symptoms across several types of livestock. In cattle, it can cause loss of milk production, as well as diarrhea and fever. In adult sheep, the virus appear to cause no symptoms. The virus also affects goats. If a pregnant animal contracts the virus, it can cause the unborn fetus to become disfigured or stillborn.
Nigel Gibbens, the Chief Veterinary Officer for England, says that UK incidents of the virus may be underreported by nervous farmers or farmers not certain of the cause of sick animals. Also complicating matters in the fight against the virus is the fact that no test yet exists to test for Schmallenberg antibodies in the blood. This test could help scientists and vets better gauge the extent of infections.
UK Farming Minister Jim Paice told reporters that the government does not currently plan to regulate the farming industry to contain the spread of the virus. “The important point to note is that all the evidence of it that we are now seeing—the deformed lambs and a few deformed calves—is from infection caused last autumn in the midge season."
Meanwhile, Russia has announced that they will ban shipments of cattle and pigs from Europe effective March 20 in order to prevent the spread of Schmallenberg. Europe, which has been battling with Schmallenberg for longer than the UK, has 1,342 confirmed cases of the virus.