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Bluetongue vs Schmallenberg

David Gregory | 14:47 UK time, Monday, 20 August 2012

Bluetongue and Schmallenbery are both unpleasant diseases that have much in common. Both affect farm animals and both are spread by infected midges blown here from the continent. It's also worth saying both disease pose no direct risk to you or me.

Both have also been the subject of quite a lot of media interest. Indeed we're talking Schmallenberg on Midlands Today once again. For farmers Schmallenberg is particularly nasty because it really is a hidden disease. The first sign your sheep or cattle are infected is when they give birth to deformed or dead offspring.

According to the Institute of Animal Health the disease has managed to overwinter in the UK. This means it could be out there at the moment, and as farmers start to introduce rams to ewes there is a real risk to their unborn lambs.

It is possible to reduce that risk. For example farmers can spread out their lambing season, so if infected midges arrive a smaller section of the flock will be at risk rather than all of it.

What's missing is a vaccine against Schmallenberg. According to independent research it was the availability of a bluetongue vaccine and its use here that helped us avoid the sort of problems seen in Belgium where 7% of the country's cattle herd died from the disease. A similar outbreak here could cost the country around £500 million.

Unfortunately while research into a vaccine for Schmallenberg continues it won't be available in time to protect this year's lambs and calves. All our farmers can do is take reasonable precautions and hope infected midges avoid their farms.


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