There have been no reported cases of schmallenberg in this calving/lambing season, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Last year a number of cases of schmallenberg virus were reported to the Department of Agriculture through its Regional Veterinary Laboratories, but to date this year no cases have been reported.

The virus was first identified in Germany in 2011, with foetal abnormalities in sheep, cattle and goats reported. The virus spread rapidly during the vector season in 2012, and most countries in Europe have now reported cases. Disease was detected in the Republic of Ireland for the first time on 30 October 2012 and in Northern Ireland on 31 October 2012.

Schmallenberg virus is primarily spread by biting insect vectors, such as the Culicoides midge. Transmission occurs during the vector season (April to November). The virus can also infect the foetus of animals infected during the early stage of pregnancy. This may lead to abortion, stillbirth or the birth of weak, malformed newborn animals.

There is no evidence to date of disease in people at greatest risk of infection, such as vets and farmers. Farmers are asked to contact their veterinary practitioner if they encounter cases of aborted foetuses or newborn animals showing malformations or nervous signs. Veterinary practitioners should contact their Regional Veterinary Laboratory for advice on appropriate laboratory tests.

The impact of the disease is relatively small in most infected herds and flocks, and is entirely dependent on the stage of pregnancy at which cows and ewes are infected. It is greatest in herds with compact calving and flocks with synchronised breeding programmes. In the first half of 2013 the greatest impact in Ireland was seen in the southern and eastern counties because of the higher level of exposure to the virus.

Congenital abnormalities in aborted animals and in animals born alive or dead include bent limbs and fixed joints (arthrogryposis), stiff necks (torticollis), curved spines (scoliosis), shortened lower jaw (brachygnathia). Central nervous signs: ‘dummy’ calves, blindness, ataxia, recumbency, an inability to suck.