A freedom from disease study: Schmallenberg virus in the south of England in 2015

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Abstract

In 2011–2012, northern European livestock faced a threat from a newly emerged virus, Schmallenberg virus (SBV), only a few years after a major outbreak of bluetongue serotype 8 (BTV-8). Like BTV-8, SBV is transmitted by Culicoides biting midges to ruminants and spread throughout Europe. SBV, however, spread faster, reaching the UK within three months of initial discovery. Adult ruminants show only mild, if any, clinical signs; however, infection of naive ruminants by SBV during the vulnerable period of gestation leads to abortions, stillbirths and fetal malformations. Although some data exist for the prevalence of SBV on UK sheep farms early in the outbreak, we have no information on its current status. Is SBV still circulating in the UK? To answer this, the authors designed a freedom from disease study across the southernmost counties of the UK. During autumn 2015, 1444 sheep, from 131 farms, were tested for antibodies against SBV by ELISA; 5 samples from 4 farms were twice found positive by ELISA but were later confirmed negative by virus neutralisation test. As the sheep were born between October 2014 and April 2015, the authors conclude that it is unlikely that SBV is still circulating in the south of England.

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