MSD Animal Health has been awarded a license to market the Schmallenberg vaccine in the UK and RoI. The new vaccine, Bovilis SBV, is currently available in Northern Ireland veterinary practices.
It is the first commercially available vaccine against the disease which has spread rapidly across Europe since it was first identified in Schmallenberg in Germany in late 2011.
The vaccine was developed by a multi-disciplinary team at the MSD Animal Health Biosciences Centre at Boxmeer in Holland and is proven to protect cattle and sheep against infection by the Schmallenberg virus.
The Schmallenberg virus, which is spread by midges, can cause abortions and deformities in calves and lambs. The critical risk period for cows is thought to be between days 40 and 150 of pregnancy and for sheep between days 20 and 80 of pregnancy. Midges are active between April and November but other modes of transmission of the virus are still being investigated.
In the UK, the first case was identified in the south east of England in early 2012 and by the end of March last it was identified in around 1,800 farms across all counties of England and Wales. It has caused losses of up to 50% of lambs in the worst affected farms.
The disease was first identified in the RoI and NI in October 2012 in calves in Cork and Banbridge. Disease has been diagnosed throughout the Republic of Ireland with the highest number of cases in the south east of the country.
To date, there are 4 confirmed cases of Schmallenberg virus in NI, all in Co. Down from Newry to Downpatrick. Veterinary practitioners suspect that the true incidence of Schmallenberg infection in NI is greater than the 4 confirmed cases reported and are providing their clients with background information on the threat it poses to animal health and the role of this new vaccine. Fergal Morris said that, based on the experience in the UK and other EU countries, it is likely that Schmallenberg will spread across NI this summer.
During early July the prevalence of this costly virus in local herds should become clearer as AFBI vets analyse blood samples taken during brucellosis testing for the presence of antibodies to SBV.
After infection, cattle and sheep are viraemic for five to seven days. Farmers are reminded that milk drop, fever, inappetance and diarrhea can occur in cows for approximately one week after infection.
The most common signs of Schmallenberg infection in cattle and sheep are associated with malformations in the foetus when the dam becomes infected during pregnancy. Depending on the time of infection during pregnancy, deformities are associated with the musculoskeletal or central nervous systems. These include bent legs and fused joints, twisted neck and spine and a shortened jaw. Defects of the brain can result in the birth of dummy lambs or calves which may present with blindness, seizures, incoordination and an inability to suckle.
In the case of twins only one twin may be abnormal.
Bovilis SBV is not yet licensed for use on pregnant animals, hence farmers, especially those with cows, need to quickly assess the risk this disease poses to their businesses and decide if vaccination is required.
Cattle require two injections of 2ml Bovilis SBV intramuscularly four weeks apart.
To protect sheep the situation a single subcutaneous injection of Bovilis SBV is needed prior to tupping. Bovilis SBV is available in 20ml and 100ml packs. Fergal Morris, head of ruminant business with MSD Animal Health said farmers should talk to their vet about the vaccination strategy for their farms.