Animal disease detected in Norfolk, Suffolk and Sussex

A new animal illness which causes birth defects in livestock has been confirmed in the UK for the first time at four sheep farms.

Tests on animals on the farms in Norfolk, Suffolk and East Sussex have detected the Schmallenberg virus.

The disease first emerged in the Netherlands and Germany last year.

It can lead to late abortions and birth deformities in newborn sheep, goats and cattle and is thought to be spread by midges.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), which detected the disease in the UK farms, said it was continuing to monitor it.

'Spread by midges'

Officials said that although the disease was a new one, and there were some uncertainties about it, assessment by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control suggested the risk to humans from Schmallenberg virus was very low.

A spokesman for the AHVLA said: "We have finished the initial analysis of samples we have received as a result of our enhanced surveillance for this new disease.

"We have identified the Schmallenberg virus in some of these samples and as we continue surveillance we may find further cases.

"These samples came from the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and East Sussex.

"These counties are in the area that we had identified as potentially being at risk from infected midges blown across the Channel from the affected areas and we suspect that this is the most likely cause of transmission."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said farmers should report any suspicious cases to the AHVLA as part of the agency's enhanced surveillance for the disease.

National Farmers' Union chief livestock adviser Peter Garbutt said: "I would urge farmers to remain extra vigilant for signs of this disease and take all sensible precautions to prevent infection."

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