Deadly virus strikes down newborn lambs in East Sussex

Jim Horn from Blackboys with his Texel ewe and triplet lambs.
Jim Horn from Blackboys with his Texel ewe and triplet lambs.

EAST Sussex farmers are among the worst hit by a new disease which is proving deadly to newborn lambs.

Some farmers – particularly those on the flatlands near the coast – are suffering the deaths of up to a quarter of their lambs from Schmallenberg virus (SBV).

Others to the north of the county appear not to be suffering to the same extent.

The NFU says there is no vaccine for this new midge-born virus that causes abortions, stillbirths and birth defects in cattle and sheep.

In adult cattle it can cause fever, diarrhoea and a decline in milk yields.

NFU South East livestock board chair Howard Bates, a sheep farmer from Romney Marsh in Kent, said: “More than 70 farms have now been affected by this virus which probably came here with infected midges that blew in last summer and autumn.

“Sadly we expect to see more cases as the lambing season progresses and as spring calving begins.

“However, the good news is that the UK scientific community is working closely with colleagues in Germany and The Netherlands to learn as much as possible about this virus and we hope science may find solutions for us.”

He continued: “In the near future, we expect scientists to develop a blood test that will identify animals that have been exposed to the virus and are showing antibodies.

“Work undertaken in Germany would suggest that animals exposed to SBV can develop some immunity but we need a vaccine in the longer term and that may be two to four years away.”

Mr Bates added: “Farmers have a key role to play in working with their vets who should submit samples from suspected cases for testing.

“Currently diagnosis of SBV can only be made by a test that uses genetic material. But all livestock farmers must do their bit to help scientists to map the spread of this virus and to understand it better so they can come up with a vaccine.”

The NFU says that there is no risk to human health from SBV.