Published: 13:34, 27 February 2012
by Nisha Chopra
Kent farms are reporting more cases of a new virus affecting sheep and cattle than almost anywhere else in the country.
Currently 12 farms in the county have seen their sheep affected by the Schmallenberg [SBV] disease - although experts won't reveal exact details.
That is the second highest amount in England - with Norfolk and East Sussex joint first, reporting 14 cases of the midge-borne virus.
More than 70 farms across the UK have been affected and the farming community expects to see more cases as the lambing season progresses.
There is no known cure for the disease that causes abortions, stillbirths and birth defects in cattle and sheep and in adult cattle it can lead to fever, diarrhoea and a decline in milk yields.
It is believed to have come here from infected midges that blew in last summer and autumn but SBV is of no risk to human health.
Isobel Bretherton, spokesman for the National Farmers Union [NFU] South East said: "Sheep farmers would normally expect a small number of abortions and stillbirths, like 2%, but farmers in East Sussex and Kent are seeing a 20% rise.
"Farmers are losing these little lambs as they’re either born dead or survive for a matter of hours. If they do survive they have deformed limbs and jaws, and may have to be humanly destroyed."
It’s understood however that adult sheep exposed to the virus can develop some immunity and continue as breeding stock for the future.
The NFU spokeswoman added: "The Institute for Animal Health, based in the UK, are working with Germany and Holland to find a vaccine but for this time of year it’s a big worry for cattle and sheep farmers as they start lambing and calving in the spring."
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