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?
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Corporate Tax Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL ...

Relationship Manager

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home