| Schmallenberg virus found in farm animals in almost all of Britain|
|A recently discovered livestock disease that can cause foetal abnormalities and stillbirth in sheep and cattle has spread to almost all of Britain, with more than 1,500 cases detected, according to government figures.|
Data from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), showed Schmallenberg virus had been confirmed in livestock in all counties of England and Wales, as well as to a more limited extent in Scotland.
The virus was detected in the Netherlands and Germany in late 2011 and named after the town in North Rhine-Westphalia where it first emerged. Spread by midge bites, it tends to cause abnormalities to skulls and limbs, and can affect goats. In adult animals it causes fever, loss of appetite and reduced milk production. It was first detected in lambs in eastern England at the start of 2012.
A possible vaccine has been developed and tried out elsewhere in Europe with apparent success. Defra's Veterinary Medicines Directorate has confirmed it is considering an application for use of the Bovilis SBV vaccine, with the process near completion.
The spread of the disease will be seen more vividly with the lambing season, and the National Farmers Union has called on the government to make sure the vaccine is available soon, warning that while the disease is still classified as low impact overall it can cause significant difficulties to individual farmers.
Joanne Pugh from the National Sheep Association told the BBC: "It's incredibly high impact for the flocks that have had it and had massive losses."