Lambing flocks across the country have experienced higher than normal losses from deformed lambs with the disease so far confirmed in the South West, South East, Wales and the North East. Early calving herds have also experienced calves affected with congenital defects.

SBV is transmitted by midges which infect sheep, cattle and goats when they bite. Infected cattle can sometimes demonstrate symptoms of acute disease; however, if infected in the earlier stages of pregnancy, lambs and calves can be born with severe malformations that can make delivery very difficult particularly in those with rigidly fixed limbs that may cause damage to the birth canal.

The disease has welfare implications, and at sub clinical levels, can suppress milk production and growth rates. Any infection present on farm now will have taken place last year and there is nothing that can be done to alleviate issues at the moment.

An industry statement said: “We have already heard of a number of cases and mainstream lambing and calving is only just starting. However, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) hasn’t received many samples so the true extent of the problem is not understood.

“Farmers and vets are being urged to be vigilant through the lambing and calving period. It is very important that, if producers encounter lambs or calves with deformities, they contact their vets so post-mortem examination can be carried out to establish whether Schmallenberg is the cause.

“When APHA suspects SBV they will fund the testing for SBV. Test results, whether negative or positive, allow you to confirm or rule out specific disease issues in that animal and potentially in the wider herd/flock, so there is value to the individual farm in investigation.

“At present there is no vaccine available and it is already too late to vaccinate sheep that are due to lamb this spring or cows due to calve. However, there will be vaccine available this year and further details on when will be confirmed soon. Importantly we need to discover the true levels of the virus as this will determine activity later this year, which will seek to inform what action we need to take to protect against SBV going forward.”

Dr Simon Carpenter, head of entomology, The Pirbright Institute, said: “SBV is transmitted between ruminants by midges at a far higher rate than bluetongue virus and so spreads more quickly through farms. This might also mean that it can be transmitted effectively at lower temperatures and so extend the season during which the virus is a threat.”

There is more information on SBV cases in lambs and calves confirmed by APHA in England and Wales during December 2016 and January 2017, and about the arrangements for SBV testing on the APHA Vet Gateway website: This information will be updated to show new cases, by county, on a fortnightly basis.

To find out more about assistance with SBV testing, contact your local APHA Veterinary Investigation Centre or find your nearest post mortem examination centre use APHA’s online postcode search tool.