Now horses are threatened by deadly foreign virus

As alien disease hits sheep and cattle in England, fears that climate change could also bring in equine threat

A A A

A severe disease of horses may be the next new infection to hit Britain after the Schmallenberg virus causing birth defects in sheep and cattle on English farms, scientists said yesterday.

Concern is growing that African horse sickness, which kills 95 per cent of infected animals, may be brought to Britain by wind-borne insects, just as the Schmallenberg virus was last year, and the Bluetongue virus before that in 2007.

Until these two pathogens arrived in Britain, carried by biting midges blown on the wind from continental Europe, Britain had been free of midge-borne diseases. But scientists are warning that they may be only the first of a considerable number of new infections, including some affecting humans, which are being helped to spread north through Europe by the warming climate.

The danger was spelled out at an expert briefing in London on the progress of the Schmallenberg infection, which is affecting 83 farms in southern England, five of them cattle farms and the rest sheep farms. The disease, which appears to have no effect on humans, makes livestock ill for a few days, after which they recover and are subsequently immune – but if it is caught by pregnant animals, it can severely deform or kill their foetuses.

A large number of lambs are being born dead or deformed on farms, mainly in East Anglia and the south-east.

Professor Peter Mertens, research leader for vector-borne viral diseases at the Institute for Animal Health, said that a Schmallenberg vaccine was now being developed by commercial companies and would be ready in 18 months to two years.

It was possible, he added, that the current bout of the disease would "fizzle out" this year – it depended on whether or not it was still sufficiently present in the summer for a new generation of biting midges to pick it up and transmit it.

However, Professor Mertens, and his colleague Professor Matthew Baylis, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, were more concerned at even more severe pathogens which might be brought to the British Isles by insects carried by the wind, including West Nile virus, which affects animals, birds and people.

"Until the 1990s we did not have midge-borne viruses in northern Europe," Professor Baylis said, "They were confined to the far south-west and the far south-east of the continent – to Spain and some of the Greek islands. But in 1998 Bluetongue virus began to spread north, and it has never gone away."

Research had shown that Europe's warming climate was making the spread more possible.

The possible arrival of African horse sickness was "the main worry," Professor Baylis said. There is a vaccine for it, but it is a live-virus vaccine which carried its own risks, he said,

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Reprographics Operator

£12500 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest independent Reprogr...

Recruitment Genius: Web Design Apprentice

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...

Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher

£120 - £145 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher X2 Materni...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer / Systems Administrator

£25000 - £32500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in SW London, this compan...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee