The Schmallenberg virus, which has tested positive in up to 100 per cent of herds in the South and East of Ireland, is expected to spread to the Midlands, West and North of Ireland throughout 2013, William Fitzgerald from Kilkenny Regional Veterinary Laboratory said yesterday at the Teagasc Better Farm sheep programme in Kilkenny.

Speaking at the event, Fitzgerald answered questions from concerned farmers about the virus which does not affect humans but can cause skeletal and brain deformities in up to 40 per cent of a flock’s foetuses. Fitzgerald advised farmers that dipping their sheep will not prevent infection. Farmers who experienced the virus last year are less likely to be affected by it again as natural immunity will develop. Farmers who have not experienced the virus are advised to vaccinate their animals.

The virus, which was first identified in Germany in 2011, is carried by midges. Ireland is currently mirroring the spread previously seen in the UK in which North-Western regions were the last to receive the virus. Sligo and Donegal were the only counties in 2012 to to have 0 per cent of herds test positive, but that is expected to change throughout the coming months.

The virus, which is similar to the Akabane virus in Australia, can result in severs deformities in lambs, such as twisted necks, bent front legs and straight back legs. Farmers at the Teagasc event yesterday reported losing up to 25 per cent of their lambs due to the Schmallenberg virus.

A second vaccine made in France is expected to be available on the Irish market next year, according to Fitzgerald.