Europe scrambles to tackle outbreak of newly discovered livestock virus

by Search Gate staff. Published Thu 12 Jan 2015 13:23
Newly identified virus is spreading in cattle and sheep

European food safety officials have met to discuss the spread of a newly detected virus that is spreading through farms on the Continent.

A European Commission committee has confirmed an outbreak of the new “Schmallenberg” virus at the end of last year in cattle, sheep and goats on farms across Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The virus is not thought to pose a danger to humans, although health officials at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warn the risk “cannot be completely excluded at this stage".

A meeting of the Commission's Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health yesterday was told the newly detected virus had circulated in the second semester of last year.

The disease had spread amongst amongst livestock ruminants causing non-specific clinical signs in cattle and congenital malformations, mainly in sheep and more seldom in cattle and goats.

The virus in question belongs to the Bunyaviridae family, genus Orthobunyavirus and has
been tentatively named "Schmallenberg virus", after the town it was first discovered.

This virus is spread by mosquitoes and midges although mothers have been found to pass on the virus to their unborn.

So far, cases of disease have been detected in 20 farms in Germany (in cattle and sheep), in
52 farms in the Netherlands (in sheep, and one case in goat), and in 14 farms in Belgium (in
sheep, only). No clear geographical clusters of these cases has been shown so far.

The committee report described that “although the congenital malformation in newborn animals have been detected recently and are still currently being detected, they are most likely caused by transmission of virus by insect vectors that occurred in summer and early autumn, during pregnancy.”

It added: “There is no evidence that the Schmallenberg virus could cause illness in humans. The Member States and the Commission took note of the preliminary assessment carried out by the
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on the zoonotic risks of the Schmallenberg virus which indicates that 'it is unlikely that this virus can cause disease in
humans, but it cannot be completely excluded at this stage'.

“Given that this virus is likely transmitted by means of insect vectors, further virus circulation in the current winter is unlikely to occur. This will allow Member States time to gather further data and to plan further actions in view of a possible reoccurrence of disease in spring and summer.”

The report says a clear action plan should now be created “as a matter of urgency”.

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