Schmallenberg Livestock Virus Came to U.K. From Windblown Insect

The Schmallenberg virus that first appeared in U.K. livestock in late 2011 probably was carried by infected midges blown across the English Channel from France and Belgium, according to an Oxford University study.

The disease, which causes birth defects in sheep and cattle, is “highly dependent” on wind direction, according to the study published in Scientific Reports. The virus came to the U.K. via infected midges from at least 10 farms in France and Belgium, according to the report, which shows the lag time between infection and detection makes it difficult to control. Livestock not in the “critical stage of pregnancy may carry the disease unnoticed,” according to the report.

More than 8,000 European farms have been affected by Schmallenberg since it was first discovered in Germany in 2011, according to the study. About half the infected farms in Europe were “dead-ends” that did not spread the disease further.

The U.K.’s first case was reported in sheep in December 2011, meaning that the infectious midge bite probably took place in August. While a vaccine for the disease was approved in the U.K. earlier this year, there is concern its cost may discourage some farmers from using it routinely, according to the report.

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