A survey by north west farm vets has revealed the region’s livestock is already carrying the feared Schmallenburg virus.
The vets, including Goosnargh based practice Oakhill Veterinary Centre and Farm Gate Vets at Lancaster, have joined forces to take a leading role in disease surveillance.
The virus is carried by midges and can cause a reduction in milk production in dairy cattle and late abortion and birth defects in newborn cattle and sheep.
It is one of the animal health threats the newly formed Farm Vets Northwest - which has drawn its membership from 11 farm practices in Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire - is focusing on.
Each of the group’s practices took bulk tank samples from dairy farmer clients for testing, funded by MSD Animal Health, as part of the new surveillance scheme.
They took 50 dairy herd milk samples. Of these 39 were positive, seven negative and four inconclusive.
The positive tests will be plotted on a map to show the extent of the incidence of the virus across the region and the results will be highlighted to livestock farmers. Farm Vets Northwest also plans to raise farmer awareness of the disease through a briefing document.
Vets say they will collaborate on providing the very latest disease and vaccine information.
Blood testing of sheep will follow to allow a more detailed analysis of the incidence of the disease.
David Catlow of Oakhill said: “One of the catalysts to forming the group was our desire to collaborate across the region and take a leading role in disease surveillance on farms and, in turn, help our farmer clients control disease.”
He added: “We felt that by working collectively with the links and the geographic spread we have, we could be at the forefront, sharing knowledge and experiences and being able to alert our clients as quickly as possible about the spread of disease and how we can implement control strategies, including vaccination when it becomes available,”
MSD Animal Health has developed a vaccine based on wild-type Schmallenberg virus that has been inactivated.
It says it is working closely with the regulatory authorities, but cannot speculate as to when the vaccine will be available.
Industry experts have been concerned at the lack of statistical evidence of the incidence of the disease, now in its second year and say surveillance is unlikely to be funded by Government because of spending constraints.