The NFU is alerting farmers as cases of Schmallenberg virus (SBV) increase nationwide with 63 confirmed cases reported from December 1, 2023, to January 16, 2024, primarily in stillborn lambs.

Affected regions include Herefordshire, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, and Hampshire, along with other areas such as the Isle of Wight, Kent, and Leicestershire.

In Shropshire, Haywood Farm Vets reported “a number of confirmed and pending cases” of Schmallenburg in early lambing flocks. They noted that “some of the lambs tested have shown no brain development inside their skulls.”

Despite the increase, SBV is not currently a notifiable virus.

Past outbreaks occurred in 2016-17, affecting more than 200 cases across sheep and cattle holdings in Britain.

The NFU comments: “In the UK, we are on the edge of the SPV endemic zone, where we tend to see explosive outbreaks every couple of years, reflecting a cycle of every 3-5 years when we have naïve animals exposed to circulating virus.”

The union advises farmers to stay vigilant and report any suspicions to relevant authorities including vets and APHA.

They also recommend: “If possible, farms could consider moving the timing of mating until later in the year to avoid the risk of infection.”

SBV is transmitted by biting midges, affecting all ruminants and camelids with symptoms including fever, reduced milk yield, and diarrhoea in adult cattle.

Cattle, sheep and goats may show potential birth defects in newborns or abortions.

While the virus poses no risk to humans or food safety, there is currently no available vaccine.