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HPA - Schmallenberg virus (SBV) identified in UK livestock – an update

Tests by the Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) have confirmed the presence of Schmallenberg virus (SBV) in livestock samples submitted since January 2012 from a number of farms across England*.

To date, the majority of the cases of SBV infection have been in sheep with some cases reported in cattle.

SBV is a recently discovered virus, belonging in the Bunyaviridae family. It was associated with a brief mild to moderate disease in adult cattle in the Netherlands, and Germany in late August 2011. SBV infection caused fever, reduced milk yield and occasionally diarrhoea in these animals. More recently the disease has been associated with stillbirth or birth defects, mainly in sheep in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain. According to the AHVLA, SBV infection has only been identified in areas of the UK at risk of midge incursion from Northern Europe during summer/autumn 2011. It is thought that UK livestock were most probably infected last year by midges blown across the English Channel from Northern Europe.

Dr Dilys Morgan, an expert in emerging infections at the Health Protection Agency (HPA), said: “Currently, there is no evidence that Schmallenberg virus causes illness in humans and so far, no unusual illness has been reported in those who have been exposed to affected animals through their work. Although human infection cannot yet be excluded, recent risk assessments conducted by public health authorities in the Netherlands and by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) concluded that despite some current uncertainties, the risk to human health from SBV is likely to be very low. The UK’s Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance (HAIRS) group charged with identifying emerging and potentially zoonotic infections which may pose a threat to UK public health has come to the same conclusion.

“Nonetheless, any possibility of exposure is taken very seriously. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has advised farmers and veterinary surgeons to take sensible hygiene precautions when working with livestock and to report any suspicious cases of illness in animals to AHVLA for testing. It is also reinforcing its advice to pregnant women to avoid close contact with animals (including sheep, cows and goats) that are giving birth.

“The HPA will continue to work closely with veterinary and European public health agencies to better understand this new animal virus and any possible impact it may have on human health.”

The HPA has been working closely with colleagues at the AHVLA and has developed an information leaflet explaining what SBV is for those who may have been exposed to affected animals such as farm workers, farmers and vets. As a precautionary measure, the HPA is advising anyone who develops a fever within two weeks of contact with affected animals (such as farmers, farm workers and vets) to get in touch with their local Health Protection Unit for advice as part of the HPA’s enhanced surveillance.

Notes to editors:

  1. Information on Schmallenberg virus (SBV) can be found on the HPA website: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/EmergingInfections/SchmallenbergVirus/
    General information on SBV can be found on the Defra webpage:
    *Details of areas affected and the number of SBV cases in UK livestock can be found on the AHVLA website: http://www.defra.gov.uk/ahvla/tag/Schmallenberg/ 
    Information for farmers and vets in Great Britain can be found on the AHVLA site: http://www.defra.gov.uk/ahvla/files/sci_schmallenberg.pdf
    European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) information on SBV: http://ecdc.europa.eu/en/healthtopics/schmallenberg-virus/Pages/index.aspx
    The latest SBV risk assessment from the UK’s Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance (HAIRS) group can be found on their webpages: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/EmergingInfections/HAIRS/
  2. The Health Protection Agency is an independent UK organisation that was set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards. In April 2013, subject to the usual approvals procedures for establishing new bodies, the Health Protection Agency will become part of a new organisation called Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health. To find out more, visit our website: http://www.hpa.org.uk or follow us on Twitter@HPAuk.
  3. For more information please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 0208 327 7901 or email colindale-pressoffice@hpa.org.uk. Out of hours the duty press officer can be contacted on 0208 200 4400.

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