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Mystery Virus Kills Thousands of Lambs

The worst affected counties are Norfolk, Suffolk, East Sussex and Kent, but the virus has spread all along the south coast to Cornwall Photo: GETTY

Thousands of lambs have been killed by a new virus that is threatening the survival of many British farms.

The Schmallenberg virus causes lambs to be born dead or with serious deformities such as fused limbs and twisted necks, which mean they cannot survive.

Scientists are urgently trying to find out how the disease, which also affects cattle, spreads and how to fight it, as the number of farms affected increases by the day.

So far, 74 farms across southern and eastern England have been hit by the virus, which arrived in this country in January.

A thousand farms in Europe have reported cases since the first signs of the virus were seen in the German town of Schmallenberg last summer.

The National Farmers Union has called it a potential “catastrophe” and warned farmers to be vigilant. “This is a ticking time bomb,” said Alastair Mackintosh, of the NFU. “We don’t yet know the extent of the disease. We only find out the damage when sheep and cows give birth, and by then it’s too late.”

It is unclear exactly how the disease arrived in Britain, but the leading theory is that midges carried the virus across the Channel or North Sea in the autumn. However, scientists cannot yet rule out transmission of the disease from animal to animal.

Infected ewes do not show any symptoms of the virus until they give birth, with horrific results. Farmers have described delivering the deformed and stillborn animals as heartbreaking.

The lambing season has only just begun, which means that the full impact of the disease will not be felt until the weather warms up and millions more animals are born.

On the Continent, some farms have lost half of their lambs. So far the worst hit in Britain have lost 20 per cent, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

…(Telegraph)

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February 27, 2012 - Posted by | Animals, Health Warning | , , ,

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