Moredun to provide screening for Schmallenberg Virus in Scotland

Scientists from Moredun Research Institute near Edinburgh have announced that they will be screening all suspect cases of Schmallenberg virus (SBV) found in Scotland. Specialist researchers from Moredun’s virus surveillance unit will perform the diagnostic real time PCR, whilst highly trained veterinary pathologists at Moredun will examine samples of potentially affected fetuses submitted via SAC Disease Surveillance centres.

Dr Kim Willoughby, head of the virus surveillance unit at Moredun commented, “I am very pleased that the PCR test for Schmallenberg virus used in other European countries is now available at Moredun, thanks to a collaboration with the Freidrich Loeffler Institute in Germany. This will allow prompt testing of suspected cases detected in Scotland.”

Schmallenberg Virus (SBV) is named after the German town where it was first identified last year. The virus can infect cattle, sheep and goats and it has been suggested that camelids may also become infected. The source of infection is uncertain, although the virus is considered likely to be transmitted by insects (probably midges) in a similar way to Bluetongue.

Clinical symptoms of infection with SBV in adult dairy cattle include fever and milk drop.. Some animals may develop diarrhoea though most clinical signs are mild and disappear after a few days. No clinical signs are reported in adult sheep. The most important effect of infection appears to be in pregnant animals, where there may be abortion or damage to the developing fetus causing brain and limb deformities, newborn lambs, kids or calves.

Over a hundred cases of SBV have been found in lambs in the South of England for far, but no cases been identified in Scotland at this time. Insect movements from the Belgium and Netherlands coasts in the autumn are considered the most likely source of the English cases, none of which are in imported animals. However, infection could also be introduced by imported pregnant animals which were exposed in the autumn. Livestock imported into the UK from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands (where infected animals have been found) should therefore be monitored carefully. Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, Director of Moredun Research Institute added, “The detection of SBV within Europe is a timely warning that we need to be vigilant in detecting and dealing with new and emerging pathogens. Advances in diagnostic molecular testing means that we can rapidly apply these new technologies at the Moredun Research Institute to this new challenge to the livestock industries."

Dr Willoughby from Moredun encouraged farmers and vets to be vigilant to the signs of disease caused by SBV as the lambing season approaches. She said, “Farmers or veterinary surgeons in Scotland with suspected cases should contact their local SAC centre in the first instance so that suitable cases can be assessed and the appropriate tissue samples forwarded to Moredun for testing if necessary.”

For further information about this new virus please visit the DEFRA website.

Published on 15 March 2012 in Sustainability and Communities